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Donkeys teach calves to lead.

We raise Scots Highland cattle on our farm for breed stock and custom beef sales. Because it is much easier to handle tame animals, we teach each of our calves to lead. Even if you never lead them again, the handling and the training to stand tied make them much easier to handle when they are adults. With the long horns of the breed, it is quite necessary that wild cattle be culled out of the herd.

Since my husband and I are both "senior citizens" and not up to the rodeo sport of tugging on the rope end of a halter tied to a four hundred pound calf, we discovered an easier way to accomplish the initial teaching of the calves.

We borrowed a donkey that was already trained to teach calves to lead. It worked so well that we ended up buying two donkeys of our own. The donkeys have typical donkey dispositions and are stubborn, which in this case, is a good thing. Also, a donkey will not take any pushing around by cattle, even cattle with long horns!

When the calves are weaned, we get them into the head gate and vaccinate them. Then we put on a halter that is quite snug. The other end of the short (18 inches) swivel rope (the rope must have a swivel!) is attached to a wide collar or strap (we used an old seat belt) that is loosely fitted around the base of the donkey's neck. If the calf and the donkey get head to head, the donkey's collar will slip off the donkey's neck. It should not be so loose that it will easily slip off, but it should in an emergency if tugged on pretty hard. This rarely happens, but for safety it should be possible. The calf will buck and jump and tug, and lie down and cry. The donkey that is used to this will ignore the calf and simply inch along in the direction she wants to go, tugging slowly on the calf with constant pressure.

Within a day or two, the calf will give up and follow along. One of our donkeys is so "nice" that she will sometimes let the calf lead, but the other one would die first and will never let the calf lead. Which of the two donkeys I use, the nice one or the stubborn one, depends upon the disposition and size of the calf.

After the calf has settled down some, you can feed the donkey and while the calf is anchored, you can pet it and touch it and get it so it is not afraid of you. After a few days, you can put a lead rope on it and teach it to let you lead it. Within a week, the calf and donkey will move as a team.

If you are training a donkey to lead a calf for the first time, you might want to use a small calf or one that already leads somewhat. Part of it will depend on how tame the donkey is, too. I would suggest that you do it in a small pea or corral the donkey's first time. It won't take them long to catch on, though.

As long as a cow/calf does not have long horns, a 400 pound donkey can teach one up to 900 or 1,000 pounds to lead. Colts and horses can also be taught to lead by using a donkey.

In addition to teaching our calves to lead, the donkeys are death on coyotes and stray dogs. One of our neighbors raises Catahoula hounds which can be very dangerous to cattle if they are let run free, which he does. (There's one in every neighborhood, even in the country!) The donkeys love nothing better than to stomp the dogs into the dirt.

The donkeys do not bother our dogs as a general rule, but we have had one occasion that the donkeys attacked one of our newborn calves, apparently thinking it was a stray dog. Since our Scots Highland cattle are very protective of the calves, the donkeys didn't do any damage, but I have watched them closely ever since then with tiny calves.

The donkeys will also run deer out of the pastures, and seem to be very territorial of "strange" or new animals within their territory. Apparently after they get used to an animal belonging there, they leave it alone.
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Title Annotation:makes handling of the livestock easier
Author:Hetrick, Joyce
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Jul 1, 1997
Words:743
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