Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Key to a Cow's Heart

Xana eats an apple
We got a Dexter cow in May, just before we left for Barcelona. We walked her every day for a month, trying to get her used to us. She only barely tolerated it, and never seemed any more comfortable with us. There was no taming her.

When we returned after a month in Barcelona, it was like starting from scratch. This time, I tried reading in her paddock so she would get used to me again. She finally got so she wouldn't jump when I looked in her direction, but she never came to see what I was doing, nor would she investigate the can of grain I kept always by my side.

As the summer got busier and the grass in the paddock shorter, we decided to put her in the bigger field with the goats. She was happy out there but immediately lost all interest in coming anywhere near us. Frankly, we were tired of trying. After very few days, it was next to impossible to even get close to her.

Until yesterday. We have an apple tree that is positively falling over (branch by branch) because it is so full of apples. I'm sure we should be doing something that we're not, and I hope it survives. Meanwhile, though, we are inundated with apples. We eat them at all hours of the day--they're crisp and sharp and the big ones aren't too sour--but we're not making a dent. So, I've been collecting the ones that fall to the ground and bringing them to the pigs. They don't go crazy over them, but they do eat them all.

So a few days ago I tried giving a couple to the goats. They declined. But Xana, our cow, looked interested. She wouldn't come near me so I threw her the apple. She sniffed at it, and then ate it. I was a little worried she might choke on it, but she pinned it to the ground so she could take bites from it until it was all gone.

Yesterday morning, I brought a couple of apples directly to her. The goats came right over, and sniffed to see if I had brought anything more interesting. Disappointed again, they left, but not before they had piqued Xana's curiosity. She looked at me, and then at the apple. But this time instead of throwing it, I just kept holding it out. I was on the outside of the fence, and I think that helped. Finally, she got close enough to take it, but I didn't let go. She really wanted it and kept trying to take it. I held on until she took a couple of bites. I reached out with my other hand and touched her head, and she bolted off. But a couple of seconds later she was back, looking for the apple.

In the afternoon, I brought a couple of apples with me into the field. I was amazed to see her get up and come over to me. I handed her the apple and she took a couple of bites from it before she took the whole thing. I held out another apple and as she tried to take it, I started petting her. And she let me. I was sure aliens had invaded our cow! Who was this docile creature? I let the apple go and she still stayed right there and let me brush her all over. Then I started walking off with the last apple and she followed me. Absolutely unprecedented.

I was afraid to Google whether it's ok to feed apples to your cows. With good reason. It turns out that cows can get bloat from eating apples, but mostly if pieces of the apple get stuck in their digestive system. So, I'll be careful to give her small pieces. But there were also many accounts of people happily feeding apples to their bovine friends with no adverse effects--even one story of a cow who protected her apples by chasing a bear away from her apple tree!

As for me, I finally think there might be hope of getting close enough to Xana to milk her someday (hopefully next year when she calves).

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