I recently posted an update about our new Jersey steer, Max. Along with being taught how to walk on a leash, we have also been training him to associate a red bucket with his food. Why would we do this, you might ask? That’s a great question!
Since he first arrived at the museum, Max has always been very motivated by food. He was quite eager to receive his bottles of formula when he was a calf, and still shows the same enthusiasm for his adult steer chow now that he’s older. For a large animal like Max who will some day weigh around 1,000 pounds, we can use his desire for food to our advantage! By having him associate a red bucket with food, we can attain certain desired actions from him.
This training is done primarily so that we have an easy way of getting Max to come to us if he somehow gets out of his enclosure. Max is quite friendly, so he isn’t really a danger to people if he gets out. However, he has proven to be pretty difficult to catch, which Sherry discovered first-hand on Christmas Day when he went running around the museum grounds! (click here to read about it) At the time, we had not started Max’s red bucket training, so Sherry used a bottle of formula to achieve the same goal. Needless to say it worked like a charm, and Max was placed back in his yard.
The technique is actually quite simple. When we are ready to feed Max his breakfast, we place his food in a red bucket. We then make sure that he watches us pour the food from the bucket into his food bowl. Once he starts eating from his bowl, we set the red bucket next to him so he is looking at it while he eats. This forms a positive association with the red bucket and his food. It only took a couple of days for him to catch on, as you can tell from the pictures!