By Judy Splitt
Breaking a calf to lead is money in the bank. Think about it….. when you go look at cattle, are you attracted to the calf that is on a halter so you can look at it and is tame? What do you think of the wild ones that want to climb the fence or have the look of a wild beast in their eyes. I know I will pay more for a calf that is halter broke when I buy it. It is worth more to me not to have a wild one. If it’s a heifer calf, I want to be able to take her in the barn to calve. If she needs help, I can halter her to assist. When we work our cows, it’s much easier to have the calm ones going through the chute. We try to have all our calves on a halter for some time.
This is how we do it. First, dress for the occasion. Long pants, boots, (preferably steel toed) and leather gloves.
We try to mess with the calves and cows so they are used to us being around them. Many of them are old show cows and will let us go up and rub their backs. The younger the better to start putting halters on them. The smaller they are the easier they are to handle. We use rope halters that have a slide on them. The slide will loosen up when they stop pulling on the halter. You can buy them with the slide or you can make your own. The halter goes over the head so the ring is on the left side with the rope pulling under
the chin. Make sure the rope is over both ears. The first few times we stay with them so they don’t hurt themselves or get wrapped up in the rope. They are tied to a solid wall or a pole so they can jump and not get their legs caught. Each time we tie them up we let them stand for longer time periods. After a few times we start feeding them while they are tied up. It doesn’t take long for them figure out that when they get tied they get fed. Next step is to brush them while they are tied up. Then we untie them and take them to water. Keep the rope short and have your hand close to the head (about 12 to 18 inches) so you have control. After a few wild trips it gets easier each time. All of this is done in a small pen or area. Talking to them is good. They get used to your voice and it will be a calming experience for them. Patience is the true key. Small steps are best. You will find the more you do it the easier it is. When you are able to lead them to water, the next step is to get them in a chute and wash them. Or maybe I should say wet them down and blow them out. It is truly amazing after a couple washes how much that helps. If they are kickers, spray water on their feet. They can kick till they figure out that the water and you are not going to hurt them. We have the radio pretty loud in the barn from time to time. This helps them so they aren’t easily spooked by noise.
There are two stages to halterbreaking: broke to lead and broke to show. If you want your animal to be broke to show we’re talking a lot more time… you need to be able to take that calf out in the yard, know how to stop, stand still and not be afraid of anything. It’s a good thing to have them tied and have a stranger come around them. It desensitizes them. When you are in the ring you don’t want your calf wanting to take flight when the judges walks toward you. If you can take them to a neighbor and unload them, it’s better to have them freak out there than at a show. You will find that your 2nd show with a calf they are calm and adjust easy to the commotion. So with that in mind take a trip to the neighbor or to a small local show to get your animals ready for the bigger show. Exposing your cattle to the public is the key to future sales.