Stories of life on our farm in Northwest Georgia where every day is an adventure in this beautiful spot that God has entrusted to our stewardship.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

For Love of Romeo

In July 2001, we returned to the States after eleven years in France, leaving behind two wonderful horses, Tsar and Vanille.  Herb promised Kara and me that we could have horses in the States, and we didn't wait long to take him up on that!  I found my Angel in November.  The lady who ran the horse farm where I boarded Angel promised to look for a horse that Kara could use for jumping.

On December 1, 2001, Kara saddled up Just Romeo, a five-year old registered Quarter Horse who had been in the University of Georgia equine program, both English and Western.  Kara was allowed to try Romeo out for a week before deciding to buy him, and it just so happened that a jumping competition was taking place that day at the horse farm.

Kara and Romeo hit it off immediately and began collecting ribbons.
Six ribbons out of seven competitions was not bad for a first ride!  Two weeks later we took Kara back to the horse farm to meet her 13th birthday present.  It wasn't much . . . it was "Just Romeo!"
I was usually riding Angel at the same time Kara was riding Romeo, so I don't have too many photos of them, but I did get some when they did a Ride-a-Test at a local polo venue, Bendabout Farm, in April 2003. 

Although the jumps were low, Romeo performed beautifully as always.  Jumping was his and Kara's real love.

Neither Romeo nor Kara cared much for dressage, which was (unfortunately) what the lady who ran the farm preferred.  She tried her hardest to extend Romeo's trot, which was very comfortable trot, but tended to resemble a Western jog.

Romeo made a reliable trail horse and a fun family horse, too.  For Hallowe'en that year, my daughter-in-law Monique dressed up as "Juliet" and rode her "Romeo" in the farm Hallowe'en parade.

No matter who was riding him, Romeo was, pure and simple, a "love."
In July 2004, we trailered Romeo, Angel and our two dogs all the way out to far West Texas--a long-time dream of Kara's and mine.

My brother- and sister-in-law always generously provided horses for us to ride when we visited, but having our own horses with us made that trip very special.

They both adapted to the rough west Texas country as if they'd been born there . . .

. . . although they both also found a new affinity for every tank and water hole to cool off in.

Romeo was alert to whatever he heard moving through the brush nearby, but as steady as always.

When we decided to move Angel and Romeo from the first farm, the place we found to board did not have a riding ring for jumping.  Along with Kara's changing interests as she grew older and found new friends, this meant that she wasn't riding much any more.  We thought about selling Romeo, but we hated to part with such a good horse.

That was how, in March 2005, Romeo headed out to west Texas to live on a family ranch.  It wasn't so much a "goodbye" as a "see you later."  We did see Romeo several more times when we were out there, and Kara got to enjoy riding him.  But then we all got older and life got in the way, and for seven years we didn't make it to Texas.  

When we finally did, Kara had a poignant reunion with Romeo.  It was clear that we weren't the only ones that had aged.  Romeo wasn't a five-year old youngster any more, but an eighteen-year old senior horse.  He was fine and healthy, but Kara realized that sooner or later he would die on the range and be eaten by buzzards and coyotes, because that's the way things happen out there.  She realized that she wanted him to come Home. 

And that is how, at 2 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 8, Romeo came home.  The commercial hauler had a pretty adventurous time getting his semi-horse trailer down our lower drive and up a hill in the pasture to turn around, but everyone made it safely.  The driver and I walked Romeo up to the barn and got him settled for the night.  (Kara was still in West Texas, having had to delay her flight to allow her to be there to get Romeo loaded.)  The next morning Romeo's new "harem" was waiting as close to his stall as they could get, his old friend Angel (the black mare) eager to greet him.

Romeo isn't the best traveler, although he does much better in an air-ride commercial trailer, so we'll be feeding him up a bit as he settles in and gets used to his new life.  He probably thinks we dragged him from Heaven to Hell, it's been so horribly humid here compared to what he's used to!

On the advice of our equine vet, Dr. White, Romeo will be in quarantine for three weeks until any danger of shipping fever is past.  He's already gotten his immunizations to protect him against Georgia's illnesses.

Meanwhile, Julie, Angel and Brandy are waiting impatiently--for love of Romeo.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

How We Halter-trained Our Dexter Heifer

This post is done by special request for a reader who asked how we trained our first Dexter calf, Siobhan, to lead.  He remembered reading that her dam was a "touch me not," and he wondered how we went about getting her heifer to be so gentle and easy to work with as a family milk cow.  They have a cow who is similar to our Sara and hope to train her heifer as their milk cow.  As I looked back through my old photos to try to find some tips for him, it occurred to me that I should share them in a blog post.

This post is not a tutorial on the best way to train a Dexter to lead, nor is it exhaustive in its suggestions.  It's merely an account of what we did, including some mistakes we made, but since we can look back and see that it turned out well, it seems worth sharing.

Sara calved on Nov. 4, 2010 in the round pen next to our barn.  Siobhan, as we named the calf, was adorable, but we weren't allowed to touch her!  In fact, the only photos I have of Siobhan as a small calf are across the round pen with my telephoto lens.  Whenever we came around, Sara would move her baby to the opposite side of the pen!

Like many "newbies," we had made a couple of errors.

1)  We had no way to get animals from the barn to the pasture unless they could be led.  Up till the time we got Sara, we always led the horses back and forth, and that worked fine.  It didn't work for Sara!  We had to drive the trailer into the pasture, lure pregnant Sara into the trailer, and drive her up to the round pen.  Luckily, we did that a couple days before she calved.

2)  We had no system set up to be able to separate an over-protective mama from her baby.  So all we could do was watch from the sidelines.  Again, luckily for us, Sara was an easy calver and an experienced mama, Siobhan was a vigorous calf and a good nurser, and they got along fine without any help from us.  Talk about beginners' luck!

Herb was already in the process of building a barnyard when Sara calved.  The next day, Sara and Siobhan are in the round pen (far left), while the fence posts are set, braced and ready for the the wire.  (As a side note, we used no-climb horse fence to be sure the barnyard would be reasonably secure from predators, a safe place for small Dexter calves.)

By Nov. 13, the barnyard was finished, and it joined the round pen with a gate next to the stall on the left front side of the barn.

We were now able to let Sara into the barnyard where she and Siobhan would find shelter for the winter, and her hay could be kept dry.

Nov. 19 was a red letter day!  Sara allowed 2-week old Siobhan to approach me and make friends.  That was an encouragement to us that a "touch me not" cow could produce a friendly calf.  Not only had Siobhan's sire Hillview Red Wing shared his polled genes, but apparently his genes for good temperament as well.

We took advantage of our barn's design to create a pen where we could separate Sara and Siobhan.  If you look at the photo of the barn above, you can see the support posts across the front of it.  Serendipitously, they were 12' apart from side to side, and 10' apart from front to back--the perfect distance to be spanned by corral panels.  Two 10' corral panels end to end created a long pen in one "bay" of the barn, and one 12' panel closed it off at the front.

We began making friends with Siobhan, brushing her with a soft horse brush and getting her used to being handled.  A trick that I recently learned from a "cow whispering" young lady is to observe where mama licks her baby and replicate that with the brush or scratches.  Mama knows her baby's sweet spot!

It was easy to lure the curious, food-loving Siobhan into the pen and close it to keep Sara out.

By Jan. 3, we were giving Siobhan halter training lessons.  We kept a halter on her to make it easy to get hold of her.  Since then, we've discovered the handy mini halters that have a "catch strap" on the small sizes, perfect for getting hold of a skittish calf.  While we were in the barnyard working, we would tie Siobhan up short, leaving her to figure out on her own that fighting the halter makes it pull, while yielding to it relieves pressure.  We never leave a calf unsupervised while it's tied!

After Siobhan had been tied for a while, it was time to practice leading.  We applied gentle pressure to the lead rope and waited for her to take a step forward.  As soon as she did, we immediately released pressure to reward her.  Another bit of pressure, another step, another release.  We limited our work times to about 10 minutes.

Sometimes Siobhan got stubborn, as you can see from this pouty face and braced stance!  We learned that trying to get her to move sideways was often easier than asking her to walk straight towards us.

The carabiner clip on the halter is the solution I came up with because the rings tend to disappear into the folds of flesh under a bovine chin, making it hard to clip the lead on.  It was a good way to clip on quickly, then move the clip to the more secure ring before tying or leading her.
By Jan. 7, Siobhan was beginning to follow on the lead.

Sara, of course, was always worried that we were going to harm her baby.  That's why our pen was vital to being able to work with Siobhan in peace--from mama AND the curious horses!

In February, Siobhan enjoyed a scratch from Kim Newswanger, Sara's former owner.  The difference is remarkable between Sara, who actually knew Kim (and who always responded better to Kim than she did us) and 3-month old Siobhan making friends with a stranger.  Again, this highlights to me that how you handle a calf and the calf's own temperament are just as important--if not more so--than the dam's influence on the calf.

In March, Siobhan met our daughter's new puppy and was extremely friendly.  Sara has never liked dogs and kept her distance.

By Apr. 2, 2011, Herb had finished fencing in a 2-acre pasture behind our house.  The pasture is across a drive from the barnyard, and when both gates are opened, the four gates create a fenced alley between the barnyard and pasture.  This enabled us to turn Sara and Siobhan out to pasture without any fear of Sara getting loose in between barn and pasture.

Although Siobhan got handled less once she was turned out to pasture with Sara, two weeks later I was able to walk up to her in the Lower Pasture, clip a lead rope on and lead her.  (That pasture almost connects to the Home Pasture with all the gates open, another key part of our pasture design plan for animals like Sara.)

On Aug. 9, Siobhan was 9 months old.  She was used to a halter because she'd always worn one.  Even though this one had the chin clip broken, it still stayed on, and we had no problem taking hold of it or handling her on a lead.

Siobhan and Sara both got new halters for Hallowe'en.  Unfortunately, we simply couldn't keep a halter on Sara; despite the horns, she always managed to scrape it off, and eventually we gave up.

Let me add one important caution here:  When haltering a calf, ALWAYS monitor the halter and loosen it as the calf grows!  Halters can and do get too tight and cause actual injury if not loosened as necessary.  A halter is for an animal that is handled regularly!  Even a grown animal can gain weight or add a winter coat that makes a halter become too tight.

Siobhan has always loved to have her chin and throat rubbed and does not mind having her halter handled.  This photo was taken Nov. 9, 2011 when she was a year old.  I'm convinced that early habituation has made us able to turn her loose for weeks at a time, then walk up to her and put on a halter.

A naturally good temperament, regular early training and periodic reinforcement work have combined to turn Siobhan into a family milk cow that is easy to handle and lead anywhere.

We're continuing the tradition with Macree, her 2013 heifer.  Macree just followed me into the stanchion yesterday, with only a little urging from the lead rope, and stood there eating hay until I pushed her out!  She hasn't been in the milking parlor since I weaned her in February, but she has good memories of getting fed in there--and a habit of going where she's being led.

That's one reason I'm a fan of early halter training!

Monday, August 25, 2014

West Texas, Part V: Our Last Day

Wednesday was our last day on the ranch.  I "borrowed" these photos that Kara posted on Facebook since I never quite made it up in time to catch the glorious sunrises.

Hmm, looking at these photos, I think that's a habit I need to change!

I did get up in time to see the rising sun illuminate Cathedral Rock.

You've heard the old saying, "The early bird gets the worm."  Well, Jenny and Jean-Marc were the early birds who found this worm!  We won't talk about what happened next, but it did delay our start and did end in Jean-Marc getting a traditional Limpia souvenir!

Herb drove on this trip, another attempt to find Crystal Hill.  We hoped his good sense of direction would help locate the branching road we missed the day before.  It had really poured rain up in the hills the previous evening, and the truck couldn't quite make it up the hill.  In this case, a miss was as good as a mile!

It turned out that I couldn't shift the truck into 4-low yesterday because the gear shift was broken--stuck in 4-high.  Without that lower gear, the wheels spun the rocks on the MUD!  Mud is unheard of in the West Texas mountains, but there it was!  We couldn't complain about the rain, but we sure did want to get up that hill!

Herb did some very skillful driving--very scary, too, from our perspective on the side of the road where he made us all wait.  Jean-Marc did some skillful directing, and the the truck finally made it up the hill.  

On toward Bishop's Nose and, hopefully, Crystal Hill.

Since I've mentioned that I keep my eyes on the ground looking for rocks, I thought it would be a good idea to show you what the ground looks like.  This also gives you an idea of what's involved for the animals that graze the land.

We never did find Crystal Hill.  The turnoff has either overgrown in the past seven years or the evidence of the road has washed away.  That will be a hiking job for Herb on a future trip.  However, we did enjoy another visit to the beautiful Frank's Tank (back under that grove of trees).  While we were prospecting for the Crystal Hill road we found lots of beautiful rocks, mostly agates, but also some petrified wood and even a few fossilized shells.  The geology of this area is simply fascinating!

We found plenty of beautiful views, too!
Here are the intrepid explorers (from left to right), Herb, Susan (me), Jenny, Jean-Marc, and Kara.  Hero was off exploring somewhere.

A rarely authorized photo of the two old folks!  If you're wondering what on earth is South Pork Ranch, check here.  And yes, it's a clever play on words on the famous South Fork Ranch of "Dallas" fame, located in Plano, Texas.
A good chance for a sister photo shoot.

Hero did NOT enjoy the bumpy parts of the ride!  When it got rough, he hid his head behind Jenny.  If she'd given him a smidgen of encouragement, he would have been in her lap--all 60 pounds of him!

It was a gorgeous day for our last outing, but it was time to head home, load up the vehicles and drive to Alpine, where we would spend the night to get an early start for the two-and-a-half hour drive to the Midland-Odessa airport the next morning.

Before driving down the infamous hill, Herb made us all get out and walk down . . . just in case.  But it's a lot easier getting down than up!
Hero seemed much happier on his own feet for the rough part of the ride, so we let him lead the way home.

In the really straight stretches he ran to catch up.

As we drew near the house, Herb let Hero get out in front so he could be the one to bring us home.

Then it was goodbye to Limpia with another time-honored tradition--a photo at the front gate.

Goodbye, Limpia house.

Goodbye, Bishop's Nose.
Goodbye, Cathedral Rock and the High Road and Jim Falls and all those other wonderful places we didn't get to this time.  We'll catch you later!