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Holsteins heifers don't think the same as beef cattle

Holsteins heifers don't think the same as beef cattle
That makes them more challenging to deal with

My neighbor backgrounds several hundred calves each year. While most of his young stock are beef calves, he almost always has a couple hundred head of Holstein heifers on hand for the dairy industry. For the past couple of months, Jarrod has had about 60 head of small heifers (250-300 lbs.) across the road from one of my farms.

Holsteins are more difficult to herd than beef cattle.

Last week, as I topped the hill going to that farm, I saw six of his black-and-white heifers on the county road that divides our properties. They were about 20 yards from an open gate that led into Jarrod’s field. Assuming that he had been in his usual hurry and absent-mindedly forgot to shut it, I stopped my truck and started heading them back toward their home—and that was no easy task, because the more I started yelling and flapping my arms, the more they came toward me. Eventually, I did get them turned and all six began walking toward the gate…and then right past the gate…to start grazing in the front yard of the farmhouse on my property.

As I got around them and began trying to get them out of the yard and back toward the open gate, I noticed that the heifers that remained in the field were slowly heading toward the gate as well. Hurriedly, and out of breath, once again I got them started toward the gate that they had already passed, gaining three more heifers to their ranks, as they walked by it for the second time. With the remaining 50 or so heifers gathered directly by the open gate, and ready to join the posse, I proceeded to try and scare the big bunch farther back into their field. They simply stared at me as if they were a bunch of kids and I was handing out free candy.

Unable to drive them away from the opening, I closed that gate and walked back up the road to a second gate on Jarrod’s property—my theory being that the ones who hadn’t gotten out, yet, would stay at the first gate while I would get on the other side of the (now) nine heifers and run them back to the newly opened gate. Bad theory. Three more heifers found the new opening and trotted down the road to meet up with the others that were out. At this rate, I figured that all 60 would be out in a few more passes.

All of a sudden, I saw Jarrod coming through the field in his truck (he had been on the back side of his place all the time), in the direction of the gate that was originally open. He reopened it, parked his truck across the width of the road and acted as a header, enabling the two of us to finally get them back where they belonged. He thanked me for my help, and I continued with my chores.

As I continued feeding my beef cattle the rest of that morning, I began to ponder the differences in dispositions between beef cattle (most usually raised by their mother in wide-open spaces with minimal human involvement) and dairy cattle (almost all being raised on the bottle with close human interaction daily). The ways that each of the two types of cattle react to humans is almost completely opposite and I should have remembered that since I’ve raised many bottle calves throughout my lifetime.

I had forgotten the adage that you can lead a Holstein to water…or feed…or a hole in the fence…or an open gate, but you can’t drive one anywhere!

Crownover is a cattle rancher in southwestern Missouri.

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