Palaver from Persimmon Crossing — Sporting Cattle I
|January 9, 2007||Posted by Staff under Archive, Progress Report, The Progress Report|
Palaver from Persimmon Crossing
with Warren Faulk
SPORTING CATTLE I
I begin with an ambitious title. One that presumes there will be more to follow. The idea of having cows for something other than meat or milk has been rattling around in my head for more than 30 years. It may well have begun in the hardwood forests and rice paddys of Southeast Asia where huge cattle and water buffalo obey the hand and voice instructions of very small people, even children. The buffs pull plows for men who are buried to the waist in black muck. The oxen,in pairs, respond to the touch of twigs held by children sitting on their necks and pull ox carts laden with logs, from forest to saw mill across many miles of lonely road.
A dozen years ago I just up and bought a three day old Guernsey bull calf and began bottle feeding him. Having no experience to draw on, I proceeded to make a mess of things. I should have had a clear idea of what I wanted to do with the animal at maturity. I should have called on someone with experience or at least read a book on the subject of training draft animals. I should not have engaged in the daily tussles at feeding time. These were lots of fun when the calf was 50 – 60 – 70 pounds, but no fun at all when he reached 300 pounds and could not be approached without fear of being butted flat and stomped on in a very friendly way. This one was sold down the road and likely ended up under a golden arch somewhere.
Along about 5 years ago I placed an order for a newborn Texas Longhorn bull. Best pet related thing I ever did. Duke showed up here a bit over three years ago. He was two weeks old. He took right to the bottle, collar and leash. He loved to be petted and brushed. He could be coaxed into tolerating being led and ridden, by the use of the bottle. I began standing over him right away and putting a little pressure on his back. At three months he was accepting small children on his back and pulling an empty racing sulky. We normally fed him through the fence to minimize the chances of getting into the butting and tussling business. We converted him over to hay and sweetfeed by three months but continued to handle him daily.
We began using a headcollar or halter at about three months. We would attach lines or reins to the cheek rings and drive him from behind as if he were pulling a load. By the time he was eight months old he was pulling the sulky cart with two adults on board. The weight of the load is centered over the wheels and does not bear down on the animal. The ultimate goal was for me to ride him like a horse. On the advice of a professional trainer I installed a brass ring in his nose. This is the last word in control devices. You can get rings in various sizes from your feed store or order from a veterinary supply company. Once you have a ring in your hand you will see how simple the process is. It is about as troublesome to the animal as wearing an earring would be to a human. From this point on you can steer or secure your animal by the nose with confidence. You just attach reins or tieout ropes directly to the nose.
At about 18 months I decided to take the plunge and see if I could ride him. I belted a saddle pad on his back using a piece of driving harness, tied rope reins into his nose ring and positioned him next to a picnic table. From the table I mounted and promptly found myself sitting on the ground. I did not know that he would take right off when he felt my weight but I was prepared for it. Maybe a bit too prepared. I was braced for him to lunge forward … and he took a step backwards, leaving me high and dry. I got right back on him and had a nice ride … backwards. That day and for several more we went round and round in reverse. Finally, I learned to back him up against an object where his options were to stand still or go forward. He finally got the hang of it.
The early training we gave him has served us well. He trusts us and as a result we have been able to use him in pony rides and to decorate and parade him for holidays. He has his own Christmas lights, Easter bonnet and hunter orange vest for the deer season. He goes trick or treating in costume and flies the flag on patriotic holidays.
Years ago I entered into the world of beagling. Until I did so, I had no idea there were magazines, by subscription only, that dealt in detail with the sport and that there were and are literally hundreds of beagle field trial clubs all over the US of A and Canada. Now I am finding people all over with an interest in working cattle. Most have teams for hobby and work pulling wagons, snaking logs in the timber woods and operating farm equipment. Some, like me, ride their critters in lieu of horses or mules. We now have a pair of month old calves, sprung from old stock that would have been known as scrubs 50 years ago before names like Corriente, Swamper and Florida Cracker began being tossed around. These show a lot of promise and can already be driven and sat on. So we will soon have a team or yoke to show off along with our horned saddle mount.
In a few months Duke will be a full fledged ox at four years of age with a life expectancy of 25 years or so. He has a show stopping set of horns and friends from California to Belgium. He has been my ticket into the world of the serious ox drover and my introduction to hundreds of people that would have just passed by on the otherside, so to speak.
I have used the term “Sporting Cattle” in the title of this piece as if it were in common use. It isn’t. But it might soon be. Cows as pleasure mounts are a lot of fun. Cows as working stock can be more interesting than tractors and they are cheaper and easier to maintain than horses in my opinion. I also used “I” (one) in the title, implying there will be a “II”(two). I wanted to write this article now, as a novice, before I forget how much fun it has been getting to this point. And I hope to be able to write more later as an experienced drover.
— Warren Faulk
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