Spot is not your typical dog. In fact, Spot isn’t even a dog. She’s a very large Black Angus cow in my friend’s herd. I love that cow! She was the first to stroll over and eat apple chunks from my hand.
I learned recently that a neighbor had hand-raised Spot as a calf, which is why she’s so friendly. I used to rely on the white spot on her left flank to confirm Spot’s identify as she ambled over to see me. Now, I can recognize the cut in her left ear, the bit of red fur mixed in with the black on her sides, and the very assured way she strides across the pasture for treats. Hmm… perhaps “assured” is too tame a word for the manner in which Spot gets to me – “determined” or “single-minded” are more accurate descriptions. I’ll see her in the distance one minute and find that she’s literally breathing down my back in the next. I never knew cattle could move so quickly.
Some of the other cows have been taking notice of Spot’s visits with me and have joined their bovine buddy for some handouts. Several of them enjoy apple chunks – when I can manage to save a few from Spot. One, an old arthritic cow to whom I take armfuls of hay so she doesn’t have to compete with the more sure-footed cattle at the feeders, now walks over to me for the hay and even takes wisps of it from my arms. She’s losing her fear of me and I like that.
Yesterday, I took some sweet feed to the cattle as a treat. I wasn’t sure how they’d like it because I’d never given them sweet feed before. I’m certain that any onlooker would’ve been convinced I was offering the cattle their most favorite treat.
Spot came over at once and practically inhaled the apple chunks. When you feed a cow, you need to know you’re going to get sloppy. Cows sort of slurp their big tongues all over your hand. I like to tell myself that cattle only do this to those they really like. I used the same sort of reasoning when my kids were babies whenever they burped up on me (or worse). Makes the mess easier to handle.
Anyway, after Spot ate the apples, she discovered the sweet feed. This consists of molasses-sweetened corn kernels and I discovered that cattle are CRAZY for sweet feed! Spot polished off the corn and I headed back to my car for more. (I keep a sack of it in the trunk.) Spot seemed a bit annoyed that I didn’t immediately replenish the corn in the bucket by waving a magic wand and materializing sweet feed from thin air. She hustled up behind me and nudged my back. I turned and explained to her that I was getting more sweet feed but that she would need to be patient. For some reason, that didn’t help. Spot pranced about six feet away, then kicked her hind legs up in the air as if she was a young calf, not a full-grown cow. Then Spot jumped, picking up her front legs and sort of twisting the front part of her body to the left and right.
Have you ever seen Brahma bulls bucking at a rodeo? Spot was pulling off those same movements – less than six feet from me.
I decided that since talking and reasoning with Spot wasn’t calming her down, I needed to try something else. So I bopped her on the nose with my plastic container – just enough to get her attention. That worked. She was so surprised that she stopped her antics and just stood there. I used my “teacher voice” and told her she needed to stop, that I was going to get more sweet feed, and she would just have to wait.
Now, I know Spot doesn’t understand a word I said. But she waited. She didn’t have another temper tantrum.
I returned with a bucket of corn and Spot was joined by about five other cows. Five. Other. Cows. Yes, it is somewhat intimidating to be surrounded by big Black Angus cattle. They are a LOT larger than big dogs. But it was also very humbling to be trusted enough by the cattle that they came close to me, if just for the corn. Some of them are allowing me to touch them, briefly.
Spending time with the herd each day allows me to help them feel more at ease in my presence. I can get closer and check for things like mange or hoof problems. The four new calves on the farm can be checked out and I can bring the new mother cows armfuls of hay, away from the other cattle. And when it’s time to work the cattle in the head gate or chute or transport yearlings, it will be less stressful on them because they’ve had a person walking among them each day.
That’s what got me started walking with the herd – knowing it would benefit the cattle. But really, it’s a simple delight in which I take great pleasure each day. Yesterday, I watched Spot “dance”. Today, two young calves chased each other around the pasture like full-grown Black Labradors. I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings.