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A Few Tips On Bovine Thinking


A cow herd’s social structure is admirably efficient and once established is generally firm until one or more members are permanently removed or a new animal is introduced. Regrettably the only way such pecking order can be established is through fighting, and if such entanglements come late in gestation there is always potential for miscarriage. There is clearly definable dominance ranking which interestingly enough seems to extend to a cow’s offspring as long as it is nursing. Kind of a Queen/Prince Charles syndrome except a calf will be weaned when it is deemed by its mother to be capable of meeting adult responsibilities.

When you see a dominant cow roust a subservient herd member from a clean, pre-warmed bed and arbitrarily claim it for herself at 40 below or roughly boot low-standing compatriots from the best feeding station, the practical advantages of high status become obvious. Social standing is accumulative and the more elevated the cow is in herd esteem, the better her prospects of maintaining her lofty status as she not only has access to the top feedstocks for energy, she can and does eat as long as she pleases without interruption.

Cows don’t have a lot of ideas, but the ones they have seem to be singularly fixed. Rather than struggle to homogenize behaviour it is more productive to accept each cow’s peculiarities. Give them at least a measure of what they must have and life will be easier for both parties.

We found it easier to move cattle up hill than down. If there was measurable slope in a holding pen we installed a gate on the upper end even if there was already one at the lower. We found this particularly propitious when we wished to move stock one or two at a time.

Unloading cattle into unfamiliar surroundings can be an exercise in exasperation. Cattle do not like to take that first step off the trailer and if the door is facing into the sun you may be there for a while. They see the opening well enough, but frequently remain packed in a tightly closed bunch primarily for reasons of perceived safety, each head jammed up and forward as close into a corner as possible. Being asked to step into blinding sunlight on unfamiliar turf is asking too much of their confidence as no one wants to be first to take this plunge into the frightening unknown.

We found the best unloading tactic was to open the swing door, stand back and do nothing. Shouting, banging on the trailer walls or zapping them with an electric stock prod is entirely counter- productive and just makes matters worse. They are already riled you don’t want to change that to frantic. We allowed them to settle down and shortly one would slowly venture out and the rest, like dutiful parliamentary backbenchers, would eventually follow as none wished to be isolated and seated as an intelligent independent.

Working cattle in the chutes has its challenges for here individual personality really comes to the fore. Range cows are understandably nervous at any intervention and being confined in an alley or head gate is entirely contrary to their very basic instincts for they can neither fight nor flee. Slow, quiet handling is the key. Cattle can be readily sorted without loud shouts or angry whipping and dogs should be kept in the cab. An animal can readily be moved by simply entering its comfort zone and guiding it in the desired direction. They need to know what you are asking them to do.

A herd leader should be moved into the alley first and the more timid will follow. We’d then sort out a number of animals that weren’t naturally aggressive and end that lot with one that was. This more abrasive type could be relied upon to aggressively thrust itself forward moving the whole batch rather smartly up the alley in a crowding, domino effect.

Cattle are actually quite observant and once they understand that the only way out of a pen is through the head gate they actually become much more agreeable to entering the feeder alley.

StanHarderisamostlyretiredAngusbreeder livingatSt.Brides,Alta.Youcanemailhimat [email protected]


Working cattle in the chutes has it challenges, for

here individual personality really comes to the fore

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