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halter-breaking calves

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Well-known member
Mar 11, 2005
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northeast nebraska
i would really like to have input on halter-breaking 4-H calves. the last 2 years, we've started 4-500 lb heifers by putting nylon halters on, then tying them at night, catching them when they come in for grain. that works ok IF the child is consistent and works them every day. the first calf ended up to where last year, when she was heavy, we could go out in the pasture, and strip her teats--just like a dairy cow.

last year, it wasn't so good; the consistency wasn't there. at any rate, i'm thinking about getting donkey to help (one of the problems last year was that the size of the calves, and their wildness intimidated the girl); i've heard donkeys are really good at this.

any ideas? we'll be getting at least 2 heifers within the next 6 weeks, off pasture, ie, wild. so, are donkeys good? i kind of like donkeys anyway...
The long eared critters die here in winter, so that doesn't work here. Our best luck young or old is a steel halter. We have taken two years old bulls, raised in the Foothills of Alberta, and in two hours of the steel halter lead them with little trouble.

Dragging a halter is the worst, teaches them to be head strong.

Good Luck!

Canadian Angus with no avatar.
The tried and true method is catch, and tie. I've never used a donkey (jackass to some); but my nephew has broken a lot of show cattle to lead, and he thinks; (to paraphrase) tie to something more stubborn, and if they live they'll lead.
PS. When we were in 4-H we always figured that heifers would be a bigger tussel. Took the best steer calf on the place and 5 days of tied up, always a blue or better in showmanship, (showed as a stocker-feeder). Fed steer calves were broke to ground tie when we washed them, or set their feet. Good luck with them heifers!! You can put a "ten-foot-pole" on a three-point hitch and "encourage" them to lead..
Two hours the first day, more the second and then tie a bit higher so they learn to give to head and hold head up. At any one time no more than 4 feet of rope between calf and post or fence. Perfer a fence.

I rub, scratch, and console animal when I can. You will not have droppy ears, and an animal that will listen.

By the way Cory, last dead donkey can from north of you.

Canadian Angus
Well you better manage your donkey better lol. The only one I've ever lost drowned-they work awesome for halter breaking as far as I'm concerned.
I saw a show on RFDTV a while back on Halter breaking. They put the calf in a small pin and just kept workinh him for an hour or so till they could put hands on him. After several days they had him in a halter and leading. They said tieing just gave the calf a sore nose. It may have been one of the older "The Cattle show." Good Luck
You halter break calves the same way you do horses. I wean my colts and let them set for a couple weeks, they get used to me feeding them and walking through them. Then with the halter on I pull and release, they learn that once they take a step and you release the tension that it is more to their advantage. Don't keep a steady pressure on the lead rope, they need to have their head or they will fight it. My kids have halter broke 500-700 # 4-H heifers this way by themselves and they only were 12- 13 years old. Patience is the major thing, once in a while there is one that makes it so you have to try something more drastic. The kids always wanted them to want to lead instead of have to lead. Also they were never tied up until they learned the give and take of the pressure of the halter and rope. Sometimes this was 7 days later.
You are 100% right.Sometimes the wildest colt will run with you in a few minutes,a bovine a little longer!!Maybe a lot longer if it's black.LOL
here's some more info on how we've done this in the past, along with some questions for you all.

last year (only the 2nd yr we'd been in this deal), the heifers (2) were to the vet just before coming here to be vaccinated,etc., so at that point we put on nylon halters with a knot under the chin so they'd stay on. then, we lured them into the barn with feed; did this for a few days until they were coming in every evening for the feed. then, we carefully snagged the trailing end (so as not to spook them), took a loop around the post, just enough so they weren't gonna go when they were done eating. when they WERE done (and we visited with them, talking while all this was going on-and had been previously just to get them used to us being around while they were munching), we tied them up, with enough line to lie down.

did that for a week, then started tying them up higher, always after feed, only for overnight. then, go down, untie them and walk away quietly. no big deal about being turned loose, they would just walk on out for water, then on pasture til that evening.

loosened up the knot as they grew so the halter didn't grow into their heads. but i think the main problem was my girl was intimidated by their size, and we didn't have a small pen for her to work with them--it was either in the barn (which didn't work very well, too small) or out in the open pasture. when they'd get bucky, she panicked, despite me trying to tell/show her that as long as she controlled their head, she controlled them.

so this year, one, we're gonna get some panels for a small pen, and i'd had a neighbor who used donkeys to break his calves, thought it was a good idea. besides, if the car breaks down, i'd have a way to get into the store!!

BTW, CA--what in the world is a steel halter? i have never heard of such a thing. and northern rancher--do you have a donkey for sale? can i even import it?!

all you all are just HANDY to have around the house, if i say so myself... :lol:
Chuckie I'm sure you can find a jackass closer to home lol.Although I wouldn't mind doing the delivery trip. There's a few guys make those steel halters around here but I think you can buy them from some animal supply houses too. It seems every once in awhile you hit an animal is pretty much unmanageable no matter what method you use. I just turn my kids loose on them and they seem to get it figured out every year. We imprint all our colts at birth I imagine that might work on calves too.
i wonder if the first heifer she showed wasn't imprinted: the cows were over here after they'd calved, and cait was out there every day just hangin' around, and made a special friend out of the first calf. they went home for the winter and when the heifer came here to get halter-broke, etc., the 2 of them just took off where they left off. i guess if nothing else, the heifer remembered cait from the summer before.

my son says he's not gonna show this year, but will start a new calf to show next just because they're easier when they're little and remember it the next year (i hate to say it, but he knows more about showing cattle than i do). that still leaves me and cait with wild yearlin' heifers to deal with this year. but the boy will help--and so will a small pen to work in, right?

still haven't had anyone tell me/describe a steel halter....sounds pretty severe, but i'd like to know what it is and how it works. is it like a war bridle or something?
They are pretty severe-kind of a steel loop that fits over the nose then a chain that goes behind the ears if my memory serves me correctly. I like the old jenny for the first go then just use pressure and release with them like on colts. Most of our calves will walk beside you when haltered and trust me were not a big show outfit but the kids like 4H so we do that much.
somehow i don't think these girls need the steel halter. does the steel on the nose get a bovine animals's attention better than a chain behind their ears, or what? i'm trying to picture this as opposed to a stud chain behind a horse's ears or under the lip...

i know i'm comparing apples to oranges, but i have a LOT more experience with ponies than cattle. and not all that much of either. if it's not worth trying to explain, don't. i make things harder than they oughta be as it is.

but if you bring me a jenny, it'd give you an excuse at least to come visit!
Doon't knock the chain halter as cruel, the animals fight less with it and no one gets hurt. It is the easiest way to halter break.

I grew up with the tie up or work in a small area as we do with colts. When you have to halter break many and with no stress I will use the steel loop with the chain over top,you can have the donkey, and good luck.

Canadian Angus
we tie break em first by tying them up to a fence for an hr or two each day .the ones that are still fighting the rope get tied to a hay wagon and led around for a while.this usually lets em know the cant win against a halter.
Cory you can lead a horse to water, but a donkey cant think. On the lighter side I took the 553 Future Direction out of your tank and sold it. Better profit than not breeding South Devon. :roll: :oops: :!:

Canadian Angus

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