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Advanced Cow Psychology and Terminology

By Jerry Davis, 1997

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  Last Update 01/03/02

ball10.gif (132 bytes) A cow’s favorite time to get out of your pasture to graze and explore the countryside is while you are gone for the day. You will notice about bedtime they are out. If they are "cows on the honor system,"* they will let you know they are home by bellowing near your bedroom window.

ball10.gif (132 bytes) The closer a cow is to birthing, the slower she walks and the harder she will be to get into a corral.

ball10.gif (132 bytes) If you see hooves of a baby calf sticking out the back of a heifer, be sure they are turned downward. If the hooves are not turned correctly, then you better get your long plastic gloves and go into action. If you don’t know what to do with the long gloves, then call the veterinarian.

ball10.gif (132 bytes) If a heifer has been trying to "calve" for four hours or more and not making any progress then it’s time to consider helping her.

ball10.gif (132 bytes) If a cow’s or heifer’s water bag has broken and the hooves of the calf are hanging out and dry, the calf is overdue; go into action, you have now reached the emergency stage. 

ball10.gif (132 bytes) Wean the heifer calf at 6 months, feed them well for 6 weeks and then put to pasture. If you pasture the heifers until they are 20 months old, you won’t have to "pull" the calves in most situations. The 20-month rule is more humane and less expensive in the long run than breeding heifers earlier.

ball10.gif (132 bytes) Pull the first year calf off early if the heifer is being pulled down and not looking well. Give her a break, bring her into the lot, and feed her back to better condition. It will pay in the future of the young cow.

ball10.gif (132 bytes) If a heifer is bred too young, she will look bad and not do well for a long time.

ball10.gif (132 bytes) Cattle don’t like to be beat up on any more than people do. Herd cows can be trained to move where you want them to and when you want them to under most circumstances.

ball10.gif (132 bytes) When it’s time for cattle to leave the lot and go back to pasture, if possible, let them move out at their own leisure. They may like to just kind of hang around for awhile and nibble hay. Let them be comfortable with being in the corral area, they will be more willing to come back next time.

ball10.gif (132 bytes) The way to separate all calves from all cows in a few minutes is to put most of the "bait" feed in the lot beyond the cutting gate. Then, when the cows come through the cutting gate, just hold back all the calves and anyone else that needs to be separated from the group.

ball10.gif (132 bytes) Always open the cutting gate toward the oncoming cows, never away from them. You can close the gate on a cow’s neck if needed and she will have to back up allowing her to be held back. If this doesn’t make sense then try it the other way, it will soon make very good sense.

ball10.gif (132 bytes) If you have two or more bulls always separate them while the cattle are being penned. This prevents fighting at inappropriate times, and tearing down fences and gates.

ball10.gif (132 bytes) Don’t ever turn your back on a bull and don’t make the mistake of walking between a bull and a fresh heifer the bull is interested in. If you do, you soon realize the bull considers you to be in competition for the heifer.

ball10.gif (132 bytes) If you see the end of a cow’s tail hanging in a tree or on a fence, there is a cow somewhere in the herd with a naked tail. She will heal but will miss a lot of flies when she swats. She is now a handicapped swatter; might throw some fly powder on her back and help her a little.

ball10.gif (132 bytes) Cows don’t know any better than to throw their tail into trees, wire fences or right into your face. No need to cuss if you get hit in the face with her tail; she didn’t mean it. Best you can hope for is that the tail is dry and free of cockleburs.

ball10.gif (132 bytes) If you have to milk a cow by hand, don’t be surprised if the cow steps in the middle of the milk bucket. The next decision is yours.

ball10.gif (132 bytes) Every rancher knows that cow manure can be strained out of cow milk if you don’t let it soak in.

ball10.gif (132 bytes) Cow manure in the milk bucket makes one consider the importance of pasteurized milk.

ball10.gif (132 bytes) Cows don’t say much. They say "baby calf be still"; "baby calf, come here and get dinner"; "baby calf, where are you"; "OK girls, the feed pickup is coming"; "I’m not going into that squeeze chute"; and "Did you hear that? That’s our cattle call. Lets go girls."

ball10.gif (132 bytes) Cows never comment directly on the quality of grazing; sometimes indirectly, by grazing over the fence.

ball10.gif (132 bytes) Meditating on the quality of a cud seems to be a cow’s favorite pastime.

ball10.gif (132 bytes) Cows don’t ever forget their babies even after they’re grown. You can see them licking on their grown calves just as they did when they were young calves.

ball10.gif (132 bytes) Heifer calves are sometimes very easy to recognize at a distance after they are born. They have a tuft of long hair on their rear below their tail and most of the time it will have a lot of white hair in the upper part of the tuft.

ball10.gif (132 bytes) Bull calves have a lot of "hang-me-down" stuff to look for. But you won’t always see it. Some calves may not have working parts hanging down until six weeks old or more; this is an exception, not the norm.

ball10.gif (132 bytes) Never work a baby calf till all his parts are findable. Half a castration is no better than none at all. There is not a price-setting auctioneer in the country that can’t recognize a calf that still has one testicle in operation. The calf will sell at bull prices, not as a steer.

ball10.gif (132 bytes) Rubber castration rings are excellent and trouble free if used on calves that are about two weeks old. Ring castration is bloodless and the baby calves forget about it in three days and so can you, except for being observant of problems in general.

ball10.gif (132 bytes) Good management does require you to keep a watchful eye on the calves. If you do see some swelling around the ring area then consider that normal. If you notice some irritation and calf is uncomfortable check closer and possibly finish the job with a single edge blade and spray on some fly repellent.

ball10.gif (132 bytes) A newborn calf can get rather messy and bound up around the rear end. It’s a good idea to check the situation if it looks excessively bound. Just pull up the tail of the calf and make him free again. Sometimes a little warm soapy water and some scrubbing will make things a lot better.

ball10.gif (132 bytes) The natural instincts of baby calves are limited and it seems that a lot of things have to be learned in a few days. Some of their first instincts are to stand up within an hour after birth, nurse during the second or third hour, sleep during the fourth hour.

ball10.gif (132 bytes) A healthy calf after two nursings was observed to ford a creek where water was over his head in depth. It swam across the creek behind its mother. Most baby calves however, do not have the confidence to try it, even with mother on the other side of the creek giving very encouraging speeches.

ball10.gif (132 bytes) Herd cows are rude during feeding time and don’t see anything but feed. Hopefully, the baby calves are not lying in the path of the herd during feeding.   You will have to do the thinking at a time like this because the cows won’t.


(not necessarily used in this writing)

*Cows on the honor system *Cows on the honor system – cows that know that they can jump the old fence around your place but know if they are not back by supper time they will be sold.

 Weaners or weanies – calves that have reached 6 months of age and are being weaned.

 Heiferettes -   heifers that have reached breeding age but have not been bred.

 Long tailed heifers – usually heifers, 20 months or older that are of breeding age. Tails are long enough to touch the ground in some cases.

 Bound up – external constipation as a result of a glutination of the droppings to the tail and rear of a calf.

 Calf fries – testicles in the frying pan

 Mountain Oysters – same as calf fries, neither of which is a food item at the Davis Ranch

 Guard Buzzards   – the two ranch buzzards that watch for road kill and particularly armadillos that are carried to the burial ground. They always signal for help if the kill is larger than an armadillo. If they signal for help there will be about 25 buzzards show up.

 Broussard and Brusella   - names of the guard buzzards at the Davis Ranch.

  Terms coined at Davis Elm Creek Ranch


Cow Psychology Intro