Having a halter broken cow on the farm is unexpectedly useful. Not only can your halter-led cow be handled more easily, but if your other cows see the halter-broken cow doing something, they are more likely to follow along.
Starting as a Calf
The easiest way to break a cow to lead is to start when she is very small. If you have a bottle calf or another tame calf, make it into a pet. Give it small treats and handle it regularly. Put a small halter and a sturdy lead rope on the calf, and let the kids drag it around the yard. Eventually, the calf will figure out that where the rope goes, she must go too. Give her lots of treats and positive affirmation. Always be gentle with her, but you must be very firm as well.
If your calf starts getting balky, you should simply stand firm with the lead rope pulled tight. You may want to bribe the calf with a carrot or some grain to get her to come along. Never let her get the idea that she can push you around or that she is in charge. When you end your training sessions, always end them on your terms. Don't let her think that the way to get off the hook is to start acting like a knucklehead. Wait until she has done something right, praise her, give her a treat, and then put her back in her pen.
Starting as an Adult Cow
It is possible to halter train an adult cow, but it is definitely more challenging. When we got our first dairy cows, they were two years old and had pretty much been left alone in a pasture. They were unused to human interaction and were pretty wild. However, they loved grain, and we used that addiction to our advantage.
First, we put them in the chute and fitted their halters to them. We found that the best halters featured a chain that fit underneath the cows' chins. The chain would pull tight against the cows' chin when pressure was applied to the lead. This style of halter does not hurt the cow, but it is uncomfortable enough that they are encouraged not to fight the lead.
Next, we would put grain in a trough and, as the two cows ate, would slowly work our way closer to them. It took several days and plenty of patience, but eventually, Blossom and Dolly would let us pet and brush them.
Using a Post
The most effective step in our halter training involved tying our cows to a stout post. We tied them firmly with just enough rope for them to stand comfortably. You don't want enough rope for the cow to become entangled or trip.
The cow will start pulling and fighting the rope. After awhile, she will figure out that pulling on that post to get away is just not going to work. Only do this if you can stand around to keep an eye on your cow.
If your cow is very wild, you may need to leave her tied for several hours. Use this time to cut grass or weed the garden, but be sure to keep her in a shady spot if it's hot. Every hour or so, lead her to water and give her some hay or let her graze. She will quickly learn that going along with you leads to good things. As she's tied, spend time grooming her, so she will be used to your touch. If she is to be used as a milk cow, handle her udder and teats. Give her a grain treat every now and then too.
You may have to repeat this treatment every day for awhile until she learns that leading is a good thing. In fact, sometimes my cow regresses, and I will tie her to a post for awhile to remind her of how to behave.
Walking on a Lead
After you feel reasonably confident that your cow won't try to drag you all over the yard, you may want to try to lead her. Take a firm hold of the rope and, walking a little ahead of her, try to lead her through the yard. Keep her on a short lead with her head up. She won't be able to pull as hard with her head up. If she tries to rush ahead of you, stand firm and walk her in a circle around you. You may end up doing circles all over the place, but with patience, your cow will learn that it's quicker to let you take the lead.
To teach a cow to lead, some people will sit on the back of a pickup or a four wheeler driving very slowly through a field. The cow must follow along because she has no choice. Be sure that you do this with one person driving and one person watching the cow. If the cow stumbled or stepped into a hole, she could be injured if the driver is not aware of the situation.
Above all, always be kind and patient with your cow, even if she's acting naughty. You want her to learn to associate you with good things. Halter training a cow takes plenty of time and patience, but in the end it is definitely worthwhile.