About Me

Kentucky, United States
Fourth generation beef producer, wife, mother, 4-H & FFA supporter, agriculture advocate, Christian, WKU alum, love livestock shows, basketball, college football, Dallas Cowboys. All things agriculture.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Halter-Breaking a Beef Heifer

     Everyone has their own opinion about how to halter-break a heifer, and to be honest, one way does not work on every animal. First it's important to remember safety for all people and animals involved, and you want the animal to experience as little stress as possible through the process.  I think you need to take each animal's behavior into consideration and you should remember that an adult should be doing most if not all the work at first, especially if you have young children.
     If this is your first time to halter-break a calf, it's best to take the time and prepare a stall area before a halter is placed on the animal. We like to have a solid wall with a tie rings attached, not a gate or wall with horizontal boards which allows an area for the heifer to get legs or head caught. It's also a good idea to have an area for halter breaking near the working chute, so you don't have to lead the heifer a long distance. Be sure to bed the area well with shavings or straw, both for the comfort of the animal and to help keep the area clean.
 
Poly rope halter with slide ring

Poly rope halter


Rice Root Brush
      Items needed to begin are a poly rope halter and a rice root brush. A poly rope halter is commonly used for breaking, and we've found that one with a slide ring works well at this time because it easily releases the pressure on the calf when the calf relaxes. A good quality rice root brush is a good way to train the hair, which is another post itself, and it helps both the animal and the child to get acquainted, comfortable, and trusting of the other. Time spent both morning and afternoon brushing will pay off in the end. You can purchase these items at your local livestock feed/supply store or go to http://www.bluegrassshowsupply.com/ and order online from our Kentucky supplier, Bluegrass Show Supply, of Winchester, KY.
     Keep in mind that most beef cattle don't like to be alone so if you have only one calf to halter-break it may be a great idea to have other cows or calves in sight in a nearby shed or stall to ease the stress level. Of course this may not be possible and many heifers will be content to be alone.
     If you have a squeeze chute, it's best to walk the heifer into the chute, catching the head. Carefully place the halter on the calf, making sure it is on correctly with the lead rope on the calf's left side. Be sure the nose strap is placed high enough and that the side straps are not too close to the eyes.


Halter placement on this heifer is good, however, it could probably be positioned further from the eye. Also, this photograph was taken at a county fair, and the heifer was halter-broke well. Do not tie a calf to a gate when beginning the process.
      Make this time in the chute pleasant, moving slowly and talking softly. Allow the calf to relax before opening the chute and leading the calf to the stall to be tied. This is where the fun begins! Some heifers will begin fighting the halter immediately, while others will be more stubborn and plant their feet determined not to move. Patience is the most important tool to have with you in the barn at this time. Take your time in coaxing and leading the heifer to the stall.  Tie the heifer with a slip knot, with just enough slack so the heifer can lay down. Never tie a a calf with a double knot because you want to be able to release the heifer quickly if needed. Give the heifer feed or hay to further make the halter a good experience. If you have a fan at the barn, now's a good time to have it on behind the heifer, either hanging or on a stand. I've not seen a beef animal yet that didn't enjoy standing in front of a fan. Of course, if the temperature is 30 degrees, you might want to forget the fan and turn on a radio!
     Don't leave the heifer during this early breaking period. Plan to work on other barn chores so that you are near but not sitting with the animal. You never know what might frighten the heifer and it's good to be nearby. It takes experience and natural instinct to read an animals disposition and determine if the animal is ready to have a brush pulled across their topline or side. You want to be wary of being kicked, but at the same time a heifer can often sense the confidence level of the person approaching. Talking quietly to the animal as you approach the lead side, it's best to take a brush to their shoulder, topline or side, staying clear of the back legs for a few days.
     Have you ever heard the saying, "You can lead a horse to water......?" Well, it's time to lead a calf to water! Having a water tub or tank near the stall area gives a great opportunity for leading the calf. Odds are the calf will be ready to drink after a while so getting the heifer to lead to the water tank may not be as difficult as just leading around in a lot or in the barn. This is an excellent way to take short, productive walks with the heifer. You will find that it is probably more difficult leading the heifer back to the stall! It's often good to have a person to help coax the heifer into walking while another person leads with the halter.Again, it just depends on the animal.
     After several days of haltering, tying, brushing, and leading to water and eventually outside, a heifer will begin to lead much easier with little or no resistance. Soon, catching the heifer in the morning will be as simple as having the feed pan filled in the stall before opening the door, then while the heifer eats you can easily slip the halter on and tie.
    I hope this information is helpful to beginners, just remember that common sense works best when dealing with animals and always be safe.

Photographs of halters and brush, used with permission from Bluegrass Show Supply
  

9 comments:

  1. just got a 3 week old Holstein heifers, we had two others but they died from pneumonia. daisy is very healthy and yearns for attention. I have a stuffed animal in the stall with her for company. we plan on going to the cattle auction to get another calf for company. what do u suggest we do. will she be ok being by herself? I spend time with her every 3 to 4 hrs at 30min each time. thanks for the info. mama cow

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    1. Judy, your calf should be fine alone. The most important thing is that your calf has adequate shelter, especially if you are dealing with the extremely cold temperatures that we have in our area. Proper nutrition is also important for all livestock but especially the very young. I suggest you contact your local veterinarian for a consultation about nutrition and health for your young calf.

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    2. Hi I have a beef calf for my fair and my animals have always come broken from the breeder but this year I have a calf that's desensitized to the max haltering is no problem takes 2 seconds no kicking can touch everywhere but she wont lead and when we went out to walk she drug me and I got hurt, never had this incident in the 5 years ive shown beef and dairy cattle, someone said to drag her?? with a truck or tractor gently of course, what other course of action can I take?

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    3. Kris, teaching a heifer or steer to lead often takes longer because some animals can be stubborn. The best tool is another halter broke calf or cow to lead in front of this heifer. Also, having another person walk behind the calf helps, just to coax the animal along quietly. We have found that leading the calf to a known water source or even a feed trough is a great way to begin with a stubborn calf and as I mentioned in the article if you have the space begin this process in the barn in an open shed if possible. They are walking to something they want and learn there is nothing to be afraid of. Walking the calf inside for several days may be the best option before venturing outside to a larger space. This may take several days but be persistent and patient.

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  2. I've been wanting to halter and show a heifer for a while now but I've never even known where to start. I normally just show commercial heifers and I'm fairly new at that also. any tips or suggestion? Thank y'all!

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  3. Addison, I would just follow the steps in the article. Be patient with your calf, knowing that each one is different and where it may only take a few days to halter break one, it may take over a week for another. Do you have any specific questions?

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    1. My son is 8 first year showing we have simmental cattle he wants to show but we want to see how he this year with a spring calf much much smaller and we want to make sure he likes it and that he can handle a small first. So the plan is to show a spring calf for our herd. Thing is our country fair is in August the babies are only a month right now so we have 5 months before the fair. Is a month old calf to young to start train to lead? Is it to early to work with it will we have enough time to be OK in the ring. Not many kids show in the open class it seems the older (18 months or so)fatter lazy steers are easier. Just want to make sure the baby will click that leading is OK. Thanks Mel

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    2. My son is 8 first year showing we have simmental cattle he wants to show but we want to see how he this year with a spring calf much much smaller and we want to make sure he likes it and that he can handle a small first. So the plan is to show a spring calf for our herd. Thing is our country fair is in August the babies are only a month right now so we have 5 months before the fair. Is a month old calf to young to start train to lead? Is it to early to work with it will we have enough time to be OK in the ring. Not many kids show in the open class it seems the older (18 months or so)fatter lazy steers are easier. Just want to make sure the baby will click that leading is OK. Thanks Mel

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    3. Melita, I think starting with a spring calf is great for an 8 year old. We actually broke a March calf for our own when he was 8 and he showed the calf at the Chi Jr. Nationals in July. Breaking the calf early while still on the cow is really easy. We kept the cow/calf in lot near barn and brought calf into barn during the day, then turn the calf back to the cow at night. This keeps the calf nursing but also allows the calf to start eating feed and is a great opportunity for calf and child to get acquainted and brushing to begin to train the hair. In the beginning you may want to bring the calf into the barn for a few hours building up to calf staying in the barn all day. Put a halter on the calf and tie only while you are with the calf. Teaching to lead can begin with simply leading the calf out of the barn to the cow. Always be aware of the cow and the safety of your child around a cow/calf pair. As you know some cows can be very protective. This system worked well, and we didn't wean the calf until just before the Jr. National show because all of the local shows were 1 day only so we could take the calf and be back home and turn out with the cow. Good luck to you and your family!

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