Friday, March 7, 2014

Collars and Halters

One of the blogs that I follow just recently posted a story about a near disaster involving her goats and collars. In my opinion it's a must-read article for any small livestock holder, including cats and dogs.          March 1, 2014 entry

Why did I like Leigh's post? Because many people fairly new at keeping livestock are not aware of the realities of life. Regardless of how we keep them, I believe that we sometimes cannot fully protect our livestock from danger. And at times we need to balance the pros and cons of the various methods of animal husbandry, accepting that there is no perfect method. Sometimes accidents happen. Some are preventable but some are not. 

So how have I resolved the use of halters and collars on my homestead? What's my take? First and foremost, I have agreed with myself to accept the consequence of my decisions. I agree that there is no perfect solution, and when it comes to dealing with animals, there can always be accidents. That's a given. So I won't mentally beat myself up when an accident does occur. Thus I will balance the danger against my own needs for safely handling my livestock. I think it comes down to the need for my safety versus their safety sometimes. Sounds a bit heartless, but that's life. 
(Bucky on driveway clearing duty. He's totally at ease with his collar and tie-out.)

Our sheep and goat all are collared. Our goat has horns. Yes, those horns can be a problem. We keep both sheep and goat collared for two reasons. #1- Ease of handling them. I often need to restrain them. Hair plucking here, deworming there, checking for flystrike here, checking a hoof there. They are all people friendly and willing climb all over me, but heaven forbid I try to restrain them! Suddenly they don't consider me the loving mother substitute that they once knew. I suddenly turned into a sheep eating monster to be avoided at all costs! Baaaaaaaaaaaaaa! Sure, I could just collar them for procedures, slipping a noose over their heads, then installing the collar....but why? Hey, I've already got a noose on them. But there is an instance far more important for those collars. I think about those times when they sneak out an opened gate. Those collars have saved those animals from skittering off and becoming lost. Grabbing or snagging a collar is much, much more effective and less traumatic than trying to grab a rear leg or do a full body tackle, which seldom works by the way. Oh before going to 24 hour collaring, I have  had a few wild rodeo-like rides on the back of a panicked sheep, getting drug across the field only to end up being sheepless, dirty with mud jammed down my shoes, up my nails, and thoroughly rubbed into my skull. Sheep 1 / Human 0... Sheep 2 / Human 0... Sheep 3 / Human 0. It takes an old human days to recover! Then there's the time four of us tried to corral a ram out of a flock. Now get this.... old Rapanui was a normally friendly ram when not in a flock situation, often begging for treats and petting, following me around and making a pest of himself. I can't tell you how many times one of us had a grab on his wool as he ran us over only to lose the grip. And every time we tried to lasso him he jumped high into the air like Pegasus trying to take off! How many times did we say, "If only he had a handle we could have caught him on the first go-around." 
(Bucky recycles weeds into fertilizer.) 

#2 reason - Uncollared (or unbranded or un-ear tagged) sheep and goats around here are considered unowned strays, so anyone can capture or hunt them. We actually have a number of loose sheep and goats in the wooded areas around me, escaped from somebody's flock somewhere. Most people respect a collared animal and won't take it. So if your stock is identifiable with a collar, you have time to try to locate them and get them back. My collars are those web nylon type dog collars, so it is simple to use a permanent marker to write my phone number plus the word reward on them. Branding sheep doesn't work too well. And ear tags often get pulled out here in the brush.

When it comes to horses, leaving halters on all the time is usually asking for trouble. They tend to use their rear hooves to scratch their faces. And they frequently rub their heads on fence posts, gates, trees. Thus the risk of becoming ensnared or tangled is a real concern. That having been stated, my own current horse constantly wears her halter. Why? Because she's a nut case, she's a tad wacko. Well, more that just a tad. When's she's wearing a halter, she's docile and catchable. When she's not wearing a halter, she's like a freaky wild thing. Catching her becomes a trial of patience and trickery, and hours of frustration. I've never owned a horse quite like this before. So I consider her a special case. A halter she shall wear even if it has its dangers.  It's a case of having to accept the trade off. 
(Yoshi is never without her halter. Somehow it keeps her sane.)

Our cats do not wear collars. I live where there is thick low growing brush with strong twigs quite capable of hooking a cat's collar, thus ensnaring it. Plus my cats often climb into trees where an ensnared collar could result in death by hanging. But I also have another concern where being collared could save the cat's life. Many neighbors control the excess feral cats via trap & kill. Obviously owned cats are released. So if a cat isn't collared, it's hard to tell if it is a neighbor's cat or a feral. I toyed with the idea of using a button ID in the ear, but hubby objected. He felt that just keeping near neighbors informed about our cats was caution enough. Perhaps it has been. But we did have a cat disappear who we knew tended to roam. Drowned in a feral cat trap? Perhaps. Luckily most of our cats by now have become settled stay-at-homes, but we know that if they wander that they might be killed. So is the solution to confine them in the house? Sorry animal worshippers, but the answer is no. These cats are here for a job, rodent control. They must earn a living, just like me. And they are good at their job since we no longer have rats coming into the house, chewing wires in the workshops, getting into the feed. So the bottom line is that they will be cats that are free to come and go as they please, and I will do what I can to encourage them to stay on our farm. 

Dogs - presently all collared. Decades ago I used to raise and show dogs. None wore collars for safety reasons.....and the esthetics of a fine quality dog. Yes, show dog people truly are snobs! All were identifiable via tattoos, and later, microchips. I lived in "civilized" NJ. But here in Hawaii we are in a rural area. While my farm is fenced, the dogs are capable of jumping the fence under times of stress. One of our farm guard dogs jumps the rockwall at times. When strangers act weird passing by the farm, the watchdogs get edgy. So keeping them collared with ID lets people know that they are owned, versus being strays or abandoned dump-offs. I've never come up with a problem with the dogs yet, but the possibility is there. If one should be out in the road, anyone capturing them would know right away that they are owned by us. By the way, no jumping to false conclusions here. Crusty, the dog, has only hopped the fence or wall less than a half dozen times. So it's not a common occurrence. 

In my opinion, collars have their value. Yes, they also have their risks, as with everything on the farm. Life is not risk free. Life is not safe. And while some accidents could have been prevented in hindsight, sometimes there are reasons for not taking those steps. I don't believe in being reckless with my livestock, but things can happen. That's life. Suck it up and get over it. 


  1. I agree with being in favor of collars, even for (most) cats. I have tried to keep my cat collared in the past, but the only thing that keeps him here now is age - he still likes to get away if o ne holds a door open to bring in packages or chat with the FedEx person. I used to put a "safety collar" on that cat, which broke open with tension on it, but I suspect he found out how to pop it open once he got out. A pop-bead collar might work if there was a way to put the phone number/$reward on part of it. Dog collars are a must. All my pets have carried an ID chip, since they once emigrated to Maui, and needed it to get clearance to go back to the mainland. I don't expect someone to take my dog to a shelter or to a vet's office, but that's a back-up ID if the collar were lost. Lip tattoos could work - again, if a finder were inclined to look for it, but I haven't gone that route.

  2. What an excellent post. I agree wholeheartedly with your reasons, and we continue to keep collars on our goats!