Calf whispering is the training technique we use at Mount Eerwah Park to produce our friendly, easy to handle miniature calves. We call it 'calf whispering' because, as a training technique, it is just like horse whispering.
A horse whisperer is a horse trainer who adopts a sympathetic view of the motives, needs, and desires of the horse, based on natural horsemanship and modern equine psychology. Training calves, in the same way, makes perfect sense. Training calves is just good cattle management. It makes future cattle handling easier and more enjoyable - for you and your cattle.
Looks like calf whispering - it's only part of the process. One of the best parts!
First and foremost we need the cow's 'permission' to handle her calf from a very young age. The relationship of trust established with the cow is of paramount importance. This must be achieved well before she is due to calve. If we haven't had the cow from birth this can be a long but necessary process. When we do have the cow's 'consent' the training begins. Calves take their lead from their 'Mum' - a case of 'I want what she's having'.
Calves remain with their mothers at all times. All calves are different, some are more confident than others and some take a long time to feel safe. We take our lead from the calf. If the calf wants to spend time with us we proceed with little training techniques. If the calf is not ready we give them space.
Being brushed under the chin and around the ears becomes their favourite thing.
We train our calves in a slow, gentle way, establishing cooperation through clear communication, understanding and trust. This involves watching and learning about the individual calf's natural instincts and behaviours. We then use these instincts and behaviours to train the calf to do the things we need it to do.
Huggie has a halter on for the first time - she is only a week old and not fazed.
From day one the most important thing we need to do is 'make friends' with the calf. We need the calf to allow us to run our hands all over it. Calves are very content and drowsy after they have suckled and like to lay half asleep in the sun. This is a perfect time to slowly approach them and make our first very gentle, soothing 'hands on' contact. We are bonding with the calf and training the calf to accept a 'full body search'. The calf learns that we are not a threat, remembers this as an enjoyable experience.
The calf will quickly learn to seek you out for this contact. The cow learns that you can be trusted with their calves. Being able to do this with miniature calves at a very young age is vitally important. Please, do not try to do this unless you are 100% certain the cow is happy for you to handle her calf. You may find yourself rudely
upended if you are lucky, or seriously hurt if you are not.
Our miniature calves are so very small, some are around the size of a medium size dog or smaller. In Queensland, Australia if paralysis ticks attach to smaller young calves it can be sudden and deadly. Paralysis ticks will kill small calves. If you don't want to use ugly chemicals on the calves, being able to perform a 'full body search', from day one, is vital to the survival of the calf.
If you have miniature cattle anywhere on the South East Coastline of Australia you need to be vigilant when paralysis ticks are around. We now use tick collars (dog tick collars) on our calves when it is dry, but you still have to be able to handle the calf to put a collar on.
The bond you form by regularly handling the calf will be one you and the calf both enjoy and benefit from for life. Training can only begin after you've made friends.
You want to get this close, have the cow continue chewing her cud and the calf to be coming over to you for a cuddle.
The above photo was taken two days after the birth - notice that the cow still has the calf separate to the herd (the herd being the white dots in the background.) There is a lot of trust involved in a cow allowing anyone to get this close to her newborn calf, let alone having anyone handle it. Galloway cows are fiercely protective of their calves and you want it to stay that way. The most important thing is to be able to check in on the calf but not to interfere with the bond between mother and calf in the process.
When you are checking the calf for ticks, gently ease a calf halter on while remaining calm and soothing.
1. Learn to listen' to your calf before expecting your calf to blindly listen to you. Take note of your calf's expressions and movements. Be aware of the look in their eyes, and where they are looking. Take note of what is happening with their ears. Watch their tail and their feet.
If you would like to learn more about training read more