Respect and Understanding
To many this photo might just be cute; a cow and horse nose to nose. But to my steer Romeo and me, it was huge. There is a back story to that that I will share with you.
When Romeo first arrived on the farm he was about 8 months old and had outgrown the barnyard at my friend’s goat farm. He was born at the neighboring dairy and was bought for $75 by my friend’s son. He was taken to their goat farm (The Horny Goat Farm) where he was bottle fed goat milk and essentially raised with them. When over a dozen of the goats were pregnant and about to birth, it was time for Romeo to move on. This had always been their plan. There were many options for him to be sold to a meat producer, however that was not the families desire and having met him many times I had fallen for his sweet and quirky personality. Plus, there just something about cows that I had really loved. And the same applied to this sweet little steer. I just couldn’t imagine him being no more and the next thing I knew I was hooking up my trailer and headed to the goat farm. The thing I didn’t mention was that my two goats came from this same farm and were related to many of the goats that had helped raise Romeo. And that my goats (Marshie and Buddha) had been rejected by their mother at birth and so my friend and her children had brought them into the home and bottle raised them when they were young too. When they were reintroduced to the goat herd they were rejected by them as well- and, well, that is how I came to have goats.
I did a lot of contemplation prior to bringing Romeo home. How would he interact with the herd? Would it be safe to have him in with the other animals? Where would I keep him? Did I want to take on more work and expense? What role would he play on the farm? Would he interrupt the harmony we had going here? It wasn’t the practical choice, it was one of the heart.
When Romeo first arrived, within minutes he tried to jump up on my back. My friend kind of laughed and said he had learned this from the goats. It was good that happened immediately. I had known that I would have to gain a whole new understanding of steer/bovine behavior and connection. However, this immediately told me how important establishing boundaries would be with him. A 2,000 lb adult steer who thought it was ok to jump on my back or that of the other herd members would be extremely dangerous. One positive aspect of the situation caused by Covid, was that I was home and couldn’t travel, so I was able to dedicate a lot of my time to working with, connecting with and training Romeo. Boundaries was the first step. Food was a great place to start since he would literally knock someone over to get to his grain.
What I noticed with my older horse, Zorro, is that he immediately set very strong boundaries with Romeo. When Romeo invaded his space or came too close, Zorro put his head down and chased him away. Zorro was strong and consistent with Romeo. It was interesting to watch. He was never mean. He was carefully laying ground rules for what was and was not ok for Romeo to be doing when it came to him. He was being told to keep a certain distance, not to physically crash into him, to stay out of his stall and that it was not ok to eat his food or try to take things from him. The cool part to watch was that Romeo, who could otherwise be like a bull in a china shop, listened to Zorro. Zorro could slightly move his head towards Romeo like he was going to chase him, and Romeo would back off or even turn and run. I continued for months with my training as well. It was different and I think much complimented by Zorro’s.
Fast forward back to the picture. January 2, 2021. This is the first time that Zorro has ever allowed Romeo to approach him without running him off. I saw the whole thing happen. Romeo approaching Zorro slowly, head down, respectfully. Romeo watched for Zorro’s reaction before stepping a step closer. Romeo still head lowered began to lick and chew like the horses do as if to say I am not a threat to you. Zorro then stepped towards Romeo. Romeo inched slightly forward. Then Zorro again as they reached this spot of nearly touching noses. They stood like this for a while. Romeo showing Zorro the respect and understanding of all he had been teaching him this past year. And Zorro the gracious teacher rewarding him with a gentle peaceful interaction and moment of complete connection between the two. It was a long time coming and a beautiful sight to behold.