Friday, April 7, 2017

Is it really "Just what cows do?"

  "Thats just what cows do."

I first heard those words uttered when I was ten years old, after asking why cattle scatter out to graze, rather than grazing as a group like the sheep and goats did. Fifty three years later I am still hearing those same words repeated ad infinitum.  This phrase is used to describe everything from grazing patterns, to the way cattle handle (or don't handle,) or why cattle don't pair up, to why cattle crawl through fences and why they are so wild.

   This phrase is ignores the fact that these behaviors only apply to the situation the cattle are in, rather than cattle in general. Cattle behavior is directly linked to their environment. Our behavior in handling them is one of the biggest environmental factors to cattle behavior, yet it is also the last one we look at. Also, much of our beliefs on cattle behavior is dependent upon how, when, and the number of groups of cattle we observe.

How...All to often we limit our of observation of cattle to the cursory once over without really thinking about how the cattle are behaving...after all, they are behaving "normally," so why look any deeper? As long as cattle are not walking the pasture, or distributing behavior we deem to be irregular, we don't give it a second thought. If we are not observing and asking ourselves what the motivation is behind what they are doing, we aren't learning why they are doing it.

When...The time of day is going to have something to do with how the cattle are behaving. One observation we seldom make, is how do cattle behave when they are going to water, or back out to graze. Most of us are used to our cows calling to their calves when we start a move, and look at that as a thing that "good cows just do." If we would take the time to observe cattle as they are leaving water on their own, we would see that these same cows seldom call for their calves.

Now, if we change how we are observing the cattle, and combine our two observations, we might ask ourselves why their behavior is different. Hopefully, we will also recognize that the difference in behavior is stress related, and ask ourselves if there is anything we can do differently to alleviate this behavior.

Numbers of groups...I am talking people as well as cattle. If we work with the same cattle constantly, and the same people, or people who work in the same way, it clouds our knowledge. We think of the behavior of cattle as simply "thats what cattle do" and forget that cattle are only reacting directly to what we are doing. When we change our behavior, they will change theirs.

Be sure and visit my website for more information on regenerative grazing, cattle behavior, and stockmanship schools.