It's no secret that I am big fan of Temple Grandin's work. I own a copy of her most recent book, Animals Make Us Human. The following is my review on the first part of the chapter on cattle:
The first thing addressed in this chapter on cattle is that they are "programmed" to be alert to predators. To cattle that have not been handled, humans are predators. Cows have wide angled, panoramic vision and are especially sensitive to rapid movements. To a cow, rapid movement is synonymous with danger. Unlike horses that take flight when they sense danger, cattle will bunch together and use their horns (if not polled) to fight.
Cattle are herd animals and have a distinct hierarchy.
"Cows are herd animals that need to be with their buddies and family members. They have close relationships, especially between sisters and between mothers and daughters...................Cattle stay together in groups to make their daily rounds between pasture and water trough. The walk leisurely along from place to place in single file. The cow leading the line isn't the dominant cow. That's a mistake most people make. They assume that the cow that is the boss at the water trough will also be the leader of the herd when it moves from one place to another. But the leader cow is usually a curious, bold cow whereas the dominant animal, which pushes the other cows away from the water trough, stays safe from predators by walking in the middle of the line. The leader cow really isn't a leader at all. The reason she is in the front of the line is probably just that she has high seeking emotions and low fear." (Animals Make Us Human, Page 137-138)
Dr. Grandin goes on to remind the readers that actions that might not seem frightening to humans, can be terrifying to cattle. She lists five moderate stimuli that frighten cattle:
*sudden appearance of a human in an animals vision
*human looming over an animal
(Personal note: I have seen folks get very upset when a calf or cow kicked at them without stopping to realize that they suddenly came upon the animal, scaring it in the process. The calf's automatic reaction was to kick out in protection as it would if a wolf or dog suddenly came up behind it.)
An interesting note about yelling at cattle (page 141):
"Cattle hate being yelled at. What is frightening isn't the noise so much as the person's anger. In one study, cattle's heart rates and restless movements were greater when the cattle were listening to a recording of people yelling versus when they were listening to an equally loud recording of metal clanging. Cows know when people are mad and it scares them."
(Personal note: This is why it is absolutely imperative that one remain calm when handling cattle. Cattle do pick up on your emotions. I know when I was going through a very difficult time right after my son passed away I went in to milk a cow that had never given me a bit of trouble before. She could feel my negative energy and began kicking at me every time I tried to put the milker on her. Needless to say, that milking session ended up with me in tears and the poor cow wondering what in the world was wrong with her human!)
Another attribute of cattle that is very important is what Dr. Grandin calls "curiously afraid". In other words, new things scare them but at the same time they are extremely curious about whatever is new. They want to explore the new thing but they are also fearful of it.
"The single most important factor determining whether a new thing is more interesting than scary is whether the animal has control over whether to approach the object. Animals are terrified by forced novelty. They don't want new things shoved into their faces and people don't either. but if you give animals and people a new thing and let them voluntarily decide how to explore it, they will." p. 147
(Personal note: I have used this concept to get calves who have never been handled use to me. I simply place myself with them in a small pen and then ignore them. To this day, I have not had a single one that did not eventually come up to sniff my hair and eventually begin licking me. I then proceed to hold out my hand and allow them to sniff my hands. Eventually, they become accustomed to my presence, and allow me to touch them. This sometimes takes a few minutes and sometimes takes days, weeks or months of work until they are comfortable depending on how much fear they initially have of humans. I prefer to work with cattle in this manner rather than tying them up and forcing them to accept me.)
To be continued next Tuesday!
For a nice review of the entire book, click here.
Photo courtesy of Amazon.com