let's talk farm animals

Cattle – unintelligent meat or really smart animals?

by Jean Clavelle

Someone recently sent me this YouTube link (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dCQkYcgxpXw) – both interesting and hilarious.  Why would cattle be inclined to chase a remote control toy and then alternately be herded by it?  Let’s face it, animal behaviour is fascinating.

When I decided to go to grad school and began investigating options I discovered the world of Ethology which is the study of animal behaviour.   I was hooked – the what, where, when, why, and how of animal management!  Some people think cattle are unintelligent and the less generous might say stupid.  However when we look more closely at why cattle behave as they do we find there’s a complex physiological, anatomical and physical system at play that has evolved and adapted those behaviours for survival that humans are just beginning to understand.Beef Cattle

Here are just a few of the behaviours which influence how cattle are managed:

  • Cattle have panoramic vision of 330° and binocular vision of 25° to 50° which allows for excellent predator awareness.  However despite this, they do have a blind spot directly behind them so producers tend to avoid approaching directly from the rear of the animal to avoid causing panic (or getting kicked).
  • Did you know that cattle have a social hierarchy?   Researchers have found that dominance is related to age (dominance increases up to 9 years of age when they are at their biggest) and weight (bigger animals tend to be more dominant).
  • Think all cows look the same – not so, cattle have great memories and can individually identify 50-70 other herd mates.
  • Grazing behaviour is quite complex.  Cattle eat for about 9 hours per day on average and then spend another three quarters of that time resting and ruminating (ruminating is where feed is regurgitated and chewed and then swallowed making it easier to digest).  However time spent grazing is dependent on temperature (in very hot weather they will generally eat more during the morning and evening), environment (on good quality pasture cattle will spend more time grazing and less time ruminating and resting) and even day length (during the winter months when daylight is short, cows will have an extra bout of eating in the middle of the night).
  • Bulls are able to detect when a cow goes into heat about 2 days beforehand and will stay in her general vicinity to avoid the missed opportunity.
  • Vision, scent, and vocal senses are all involved in cow and calf identification.  Cows will groom their calves, “labelling” them as their own.  Contact between the cow and her calf for a period as brief as 5 minutes postpartum results in a strong maternal bond between the cow and her calf.

This is just a hint of the complex world of cattle behaviour.  So next time you are driving down the highway and see a herd of cattle you might want to just pull over and watch for a while, you may learn something very interesting!

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Posted by FACS on August 9th, 2013 :: Filed under Agriculture Education,Animal care,animal handling,Dairy cattle,Research,Uncategorized
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