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Need To Respect A Cow’s Kick

Novices to the beef industry might not appreciate the devastating effectiveness of a cow’s defensive kick. Wry humour from poorly informed people will occasionally refer to some mild discomfort as having been “kicked by a cow,” a cow being seen as a mild-mannered, harmless and inherently awkward animal. How little do they know.

The damage a well-aimed kick can deliver should never be underestimated nor minimized in expectation.

With either hind leg she can strike straight backwards to about upper thigh height, strike directly forward to her belly line, forward also in an outward arc, or forward and then back in a rough quarter circle sweep, which is the one capable of doing the most damage since it is the least expected. Her contact range in all these options tends to be well beyond what one might casually suppose based on her seemingly ungainly structure.

Whenever we were obliged to mess with a cow’s udder we never presumed to be welcome. We would confine this animal in a head gate and tie back the leg on the side we wished to work, the off end secured around a firm post or rail by a slip knot

The tie back was a double round of our lariat on the leg immediately above the ankle using a break-away-honda for ease of release. Using only one round of rope carries potential for significant damage to the leg since on occasion a cow will kick with considerable force trying to slip her restraint. A double rope adds enough volume to buffer the snap an exceptionally forceful kick will deliver to her leg bone.

The key to a successful tie is to find the precise distance a braced animal can stand with comfort. Then if she thrusts her foot forward it is a relatively short distance stopped in mid kick by the rope.

It is useful to place a restraint behind the cow to prevent excessive back and forth body movement. Even a good quality head gate allows an animal slippage about one half the length of its neck.

We found there is another effective way of immobilizing cattle’s feet if the concern is kicking backwards, (as in taking scrotal measurements) but you need two people, one to do the necessary, and one to hold the tail of the animal. We simply raised the tail straight up being careful not to create an angle, and held it in place with only enough pressure to keep the animal from moving. There is no need to create unnecessary pain by reefing on the tail, just turn it upward and hold it in a firm-grip husky position until your partner has completed whatever he/she is doing below.

A highly controversial technique for immobilizing a beef animal is to bring it down by cinching a lariat around its rib cage directly behind the front legs, then adding a second loop just forward of the udder, keeping the line and slip knot up along the backbone with the lead end passing beyond the tail head into the hands of the operator.

Practitioners stand well back and pull firmly with steady pressure on the rope. Nerves flowing around the backbone are constricted and the animal will be off its feet in a matter of moments. We’ve seen it done, done it ourselves (in ignorance) but would not do so again. There is the very real prospect of permanent nerve damage resulting at best in a crippled cow, at worst cheap hamburger or coyote bait in the far corner of the field. It doesn’t seem to be inherently cruel but risks far outweigh convenience. If some confident cowboy suggests he engage this process on your cow reflect on your options. Then turn him down cold. Few practices could embody more potentially damaging risk.

A well-placed kick by a stressed cow is no matter for casual flippancy as every rancher working with cattle will acknowledge. A sharp blow to the shin, knee or thigh can be extremely serious and a solid hit to the face or skull could be deadly. The rule is always caution and safety first. Everything else can wait.

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

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