Herd Instincts Help Shape Cattle Behavior

A characteristic of cattle that contributes to their behavior is their herd instinct. Cattle are social animals that are more comfortable and feel safer in a group. Their herd instinct evolved as a means of protection against their predators. Even though cattle were domesticated thousands of years ago, their herd instinct remains strong. When isolated from the rest of the herd, a single animal will become very stressed and easily upset. Cattle gain weight and produce better when they are managed in groups rather than individually. Among members of a herd there are followers and leaders. The “leader” is the animal that is almost always the first member of the group to move in a particular direction. When this animal heads off to go somewhere, the rest of the group will follow.

Herd Social Order

This is like the pecking order among a flock of chickens. One animal asserts dominance over a weaker member but is in turn dominated by a stronger animal. Normally, dominant cattle are not the herd leaders, nor are subordinate cattle necessarily followers. By observing the herd, you can identify the dominant and subordinate cattle. When they are grazing, dominant cattle are usually in the middle of the group where they can get the most protection, and the subordinate cattle are on the periphery. Also, when they are at a feeder, the dominant cattle will push subordinate cattle out of their way to get at the food.

Working with Cattle

Often if you fail to restrain cattle on the first attempt, it is more difficult to restrain them the next time around. You can increase your chance for success by planning. Know what you want to do before you start working the cattle. Scout the work area ahead of time and make sure it is ready to receive cattle. Check the equipment you are planning to use to ensure that it is in good working order and that you know how to use it. Make sure alleys, chutes, and pens are clear of obstacles and that the gates open and close properly. Do not rush and take your time. Moving cattle too quickly can increase stress levels and make them harder to handle.

Breed Helps Shape Behavior

The breed of cattle also shapes their behavior. As most people who handle cattle know, Brahman and Brahman-cross cattle are easily excited. While all cattle are herd animals, Brahman, and their crosses form extremely tight groups. They are easily stressed when they are alone. A unique characteristic of Brahman and Brahman crosses is their tendency to lie down when they become overly excited or disturbed. In general, the behavior of these animals makes them more difficult to handle than English or Continental breeds. There are a few tips for handling Brahman cattle and their crosses. They need to be handled calmly and gently and, whenever possible, in groups. If a Brahman or Brahman-cross lies down because it is stressed, leave it alone for at least five minutes. If you immediately try to force the animal to get up, you can cause it to go into shock and die. With any breed of cattle, you are going to come across a few that are overly aggressive or nervous. These animals have no place on your farm because they may hurt you and the other cattle that are around them. Not only are they dangerous, but they will also stress the other cattle and reduce their performance as well. If you have any highly aggressive or skittish animals, it is strongly recommended that you cull them.

Provided by Grant Ellington, North Carolina State Extension

Creatures Corner Fun Facts About Cattle

Other products besides beef are made from beef carcasses. Leather, made from the hide, is used to make a variety of items, from clothing to basketballs.

Eight pairs of cowboy boots can be made from one cowhide.

Gelatin, made from bones and horns of cattle, is used in making candies, marshmallows, ice cream and photographic film.

Bones are used to make glue & fertilizers. Blood meal fertilizer is made from blood.

Beef fat, called tallow, is an ingredient in soaps, cosmetics, candles, shortenings, and chewing gum.

Many medicines, including insulin and estrogen, are made from the glands of the cow.

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