October 14, 2016

Horned Bulls and Lack Thereof

Besides the myth about cow-tipping, there exists another dastardly myth that: "all bulls have horns. "

By bulls, I mean intact male bovines.

Simply put, not all bulls have horns. Rather, all cattle genders (cows, bulls, steers, and heifers) have horns, but not all breeds or breed crosses. Genetics play a big role in determining horn existence, and horn existence is not male sex-linked (or only found on the male chromosome).

Most breeds in the world have horns, but there are also a large number of animals that are dehorned or "disbudded" when quite young.

Various breeds have horns primarily for aesthetics--to keep the characteristic "look" of that particular breed--and for their protection. There is some science showing that horns also act as a temperature control system, especially for animals raised in hot and humid climates.

However animals that are dehorned or disbudded are done so for the safety of the people handling them and for other animals. Few horned cattle get themselves stuck in a fence or shrubby vegetation, primarily because they know the breadth and size of their horns, and are quite intelligent in knowing how to maneuver their horns through seemingly tight spaces. Cattle are actually a lot smarter about maneuver their horns through a tight space than a dog is trying to get a big stick through a door!

There are many bulls that do not have horns, whether they were born that way or disbudded when very young. So I really and strongly suggest that the existence of horns in a bovine animal is not the best way to tell the gender. Rather, I'd sooner you take a look at what's hanging down in between the hind legs to see if the animal you are looking at is a cow or bull, or even a steer or heifer.

Here's where pictures are a huge help. 

Polled Cattle Breeds

Angus: Black

Angus cow
Angus bull with his bull calf

Angus: Red

Red Angus cow
Red Angus bull

Red Poll

Red Poll cow
Red Poll bull

Belted Galloway

Belted Galloway cow
Belted Galloway bull 


Galloway cows
Galloway bull

Speckle Park

Speckle Park cow and her bull calf
Speckle Park bull

British White

British White cow
British White bull

Some Horned Cattle Breeds

Texas Longhorn

Texas Longhorn bull
Texas Longhorn cow
Texas Longhorn steer

Spanish Fighting Cattle

Spanish Fighting bull (Iberian heterogenous)
Spanish Fighting cow (Iberian heterogenous cattle)

Scottish Highland

Highland bull - summer coat
Highland cow with bull calf


(Horned) Hereford cow with calf
(Horned) Hereford bull
Just for grins and giggles, here are some pictures, for comparison, of polled Hereford cattle. Exact same breed, except that somewhere down the line, a long time ago, a genetic mutation enabled this breed, without any influence from the Aberdeen Angus lineage, to be naturally polled (never born with horns). 

(Polled) Hereford cow
(Polled) Hereford bulls


Ankole-Watusi cow with bull calf
Ankole-Watusi bull

Here's the thing: If you see a calf suckling from what looks to you like a "bull" because it's a bovine and has horns, chances are you are looking at a cow caring for her calf.

So as you can see, not all bulls have horns, but there are plenty of breeds out there with all genders/sexes that have horns. I didn't include other breeds like Simmental, Limousin, Charolais, Jersey, Holstein, Braunvieh, Brown Swiss, Nellore, Braford, Beefmaster, Florida Cracker, Corriente, and many others, mainly because I didn't want to take too much time and space up showing the many breeds that are capable of having (and not having) horns.

Fun fact: Did you know that if you bred a horned bull to a polled cow (or a polled bull to a horned cow), you get a calf that is also polled? This is because the gene for horns is what geneticists call "recessive" or suppressed indefinitely so that it does not show up ever, physically, in the offspring.

Of course, there's a bit more to this genetics story to be discussed at a later date! 

October 13, 2016

Fear the Cow! Or Not.

Instead of boring you to death with a lecture on bovine behaviour and complaining how people often get cow language so wrong and convoluted, I thought I'd share some "cow attack" videos here and do my best to explain them: What went wrong, why, and what the people involved could have done to make things better for both them and the filmed "attack" cattle.

But I'll save the best for the last: Crazy Jersey bulls!!

Note: I'm not posting videos of Spanish Fighting cattle being run through the streets of Mexico, Spain or Portugal (or any other Spanish-rooted cities where bull fighting is a ceremonial tradition) and mauling people. Ain't no explanation for those videos except genetic selection and learned behaviour to make them super aggressive to anything that moves: people especially.

Video 1: "Cow Attack"

In this video, it's pretty obvious that the big Holstein cow that is 10 times the girl's size has no intention of harming her. Rather, she's more interested in what new smells are in the room than the girl getting all worked up about the cow "invading" her space.

What's also obvious is that the girl has never been around cows before, and should not have moved behind the door. If the cow had been any bigger or even leaned against the door, she could've been crushed pretty bad. The cow would not have meant for it to happen, but this is a 1600 lb beast we're seeing here.

Video 2: "Mad Cow Attack (extended cut)"

I find this video particularly amusing for several reasons:
  1. The herd was riled up already with the arrival of new strangers, and both curious and quite excited. 
  2. The two boys think these are female cows--they're not.
  3. The "one cow" was crazy--he wasn't.
  4. That first "greeting" then taunting them was going to do any good--it didn't.
  5. They ran away instead of standing their ground.
  6. The sparsely treed area would somehow "protect" them from the "cow" chasing them--it didn't.
  7. Again, running away and screaming like little girls just made the "cow" chasing them even more excited.
The comments were also amusing. Some people were saying these were cows, others bulls, but after studying this video I can conclude that these pesky bovines were steers. End of discussion. 

Now, these two young "men" were already quite anxious, scared, tense, and assuming something bad will happen to them, which it did. There's a saying by Bud Williams and even Dr. Murphy with Murphy's Law, that if you think something bad is going to happen, chances are it will or already has; and anything bad that can happen will happen, respectively.  Essentially those boys created their own mess because they were scared, and the cattle sensed it and mirrored it to perfection. If those boys were much calmer and had no fear, we would've seen a much different scene. 

Backing off and running away didn't help matters either. There's "advice" on the internet that says when you encounter a cow, back off or walk away. This does not help. When cattle are already accustomed to following a person on foot because they have been taught that they will get something to eat, a stranger doing the same thing will just encourage them to follow. Instead, stand your ground, make yourself look big, and stay there for as long as needed until they lose interest and move away. Or, if one gets a bit bouncy and wants to play, don't take that as a sign to run away, instead get loud, fearless and aggressive and charge at them. I have personally done this on many occasions with good results. 

At the very beginning, one of them asks, "Why are they coming closer to us?" and the other says, "[They think] we're gonna feed [them]." Which is absolutely correct. The other reason is that they are curious. I've had steers come up to me when I get out in their pasture all the time and it's both because they think I have treats and they're just wanting to see what I'm up to. 

That, in itself, is nothing to be afraid of. 

But, because these boys have no clue about cow behaviour or psychology and were being a couple of bumbling idiots looking for trouble, they got what they came for. And the black Pinzgauer-cross steer delivered beautifully. 

Video 3: "Terrifying footage of a cow attack on a busy bridleway"

With the terrified man shouting his throat hoarse and that damned dog running free, it's no wonder those cows were riled up. 

But scientists are needed to to figure out a "theory" as to why people walking dogs are more prone to attacks from cows. Seriously?! I think it's pretty obvious as to why! 

First of all, it's no "theory" that cows are hard-wired, like other wild ungulate cousins, to have strong maternal instincts enough to feel the need to protect their young. In order to survive in the wild, and even in domestic settings where people do not have control of everything all the time, females must protect their young in order to ensure these young survive and are able to procreate; all this to ensure the survival of the species. If it means pounding the heck out of a dumb dog, so be it. 

Second, these scientists are not exactly right in that owners are trying to protect their dog from the ferocious cows, though that may be part of the reason. Rather, dogs see their human caretakers as objects of protection and shelter, so they will run to these humans to hide when a herd of cattle is trying to take it out. This is why I do not wholly agree with the suggestion that, when walking dogs out in a public pathway with cattle on it, to have a dog off-leash. This gives dogs the excuse to go harass livestock, and also to come running to their humans for protection. Though it indeed may give a dog the ability to escape and take the cows' focus off of you, that dog can and will run to you for protection if it feels the need to. And, not all dogs can outrun cattle!! 

So, if you have a dog, stay the hell out of where cows are. Better for both you and the dog.

Video 4: "Charged by Cows"

This video requires a quick and simple explanation:

The person filming was in no danger. These cows more than likely where curious about her and thought she had treats for them. They walked and started running because she was moving away from them, which she shouldn't have done. Even when there were calves with them. 

Video 5: "The cows are following me. Silly cows."

Silly cows indeed. You can hear that the videographer has a dog with them, which is most likely why those cows--heifers more like--where following the pair. 

Cute video.

Video 6: "Crazy Jersey Bull"

Let this be a lesson to you all: Jersey bulls ARE crazy. They're super aggressive, they'll attack anything that they think is a threat to their harem, and are nothing to be messing around with nor to trust. Legitimately, Jersey bulls are to be feared and never trusted. I personally do not like dairy bulls at all.

Why are they so wicked? Two things: As calves, they're typically raised on the bottle by humans, so they become quite accustomed to humans and fearless around humans. So when they get older, they don't see humans so much as a "predatory threat," as "part of the herd," so to speak. Second, genetics are at play here. Because Jersey cows have been selected for excellent milk and lots of it, femininity, and more milk production, unconsciously the selection for testosterone-hyped, super-masculine bulls has also resulted. Jersey bulls don't look as masculine as many beef bulls, but their behaviour is 10x more macho-male-bovine than most beef bulls. Which makes them much more protective, more sexually active (I would think), and more prone to see just about anything that moves as rival to their harem. All of that is part and parcel of what makes them so bloody dangerous.

There's no doubt that cattle are big, strong, fast, and smarter than we think. They deserve the utmost respect and admiration, but in many situations they shouldn't be feared simply because they're so big. There are things people can learn about cattle, if only they would let the animals teach them. 

October 8, 2016

Cow Tipping: Rural Fact or Urban Myth?

Here's the thing: Just out of curiosity, if I were to type in a Google search "urban myths about cows," what would be the most common urban myth or legend, take your pick, that that search result would come up?

The answer: Cow Tipping.

I know there's a lot of stuff on the Internet about whether tipping a cow is factually possible or literally impossible, but I'd like to inject my own bit of common sense in explaining why cow-tipping is, in fact, an urban mythical legend.

What is "Cow Tipping?"

For those who don't know, basically it's this prank where someone runs up to a sleeping cow--this is supposed to be at night by the way, and for some dumb reason always involves a bit of booze--and pushes, or shoves, the animal over onto its side.

It gives rise to several very amusing misconceptions:

  1. Cows sleep standing up
  2. Cows are made up of stiff plastic
  3. Cows can't run or buck or move fast and run away even faster
  4. Cows are blind, deaf and stupid, especially at night
  5. Humans are super-duper strong!
  6. Humans are sneakier and smarter than cows, even when drunk
Laugh all you want, there are still people that are alive today that actually believe these things!

How did Cow Tipping come about? 

I don't know the whole history of how it all started, but I do know that it started in the 1970s and '80s, and basically it would have began when people had become further and further removed from the farm the longer they lived in urban areas. When they come to the country visiting friends or cousins, well that's when shit can hit the fan. 

Cow-tipping--stemming from "snipe hunting"--can't come about without beer (or a bit of Jack Daniels), a pasture, some cows, and some really gullible city kid with over-confidence issues. Oh and some country kids wanting to have a bit of fun.

So, what happens is that these country bumpkins would convince this drunken kid into the possibility of putting one of those 1200+ bovines ass over teakettle by sneaking up on them and then shoving them over. Easy peasy, right?

They'd have to first convince the kid that the cows are actually sleeping with their noses to the ground (not grazing), and would never hear or see him coming up to her, which would be really easy, so that solves two problems right there.

Second, the country boys needed to convince the kid that even though a cow is half the weight of a pick-up, she's more tall than wide so she'd be easy to push over; just like pushing over a hat stand. Sort of.

Oh, and two more things. (And this is where the alcohol is such a big help.) One, the confidence these boys (those ruddy country mice) exhibit that the city kid can do it has to be convincing; and finally, Jack Daniels (or Budweiser) believes you can be Super Man the more you drink his alchemic brew!!

I think you get the picture.

What will Really Happen...

In the mind of the confidently-stupid (and some don't even need to be drunk to be like that), the attack is successful: You run up to said sleeping cow so hard that she topples over in surprise, where she wakes up and takes off running, leaving you laughing and proud of your achievement, and leaving your buddies standing at the fence with their jaws almost hitting the ground.

Yeah, like that ever happens.

Here's the thing: When you've had a few drinks, you're bound to be stumbling around like a fool making a whole lot of noise that a cow can hear pretty darn clearly. Now, the pasture doesn't even have to be muddy; there's cow pats, thick grass patches, and even a few rocks to stub your toe on, or a few gopher holes to get your foot stuck in. But woe be the drunken fool bumbling about in a dark pasture at night and he steps in a badger hole! Ouch!!

Basically, what will happen is that these "sleeping" cows will hear the drunken human out in the dark, and calmly and silently move away. Or run away, depending on how tame they are towards humans. All this leaving the poor guy wandering around in the dark wondering where those #$%^ing cows went.

And if he actually happens to get close to a cow, a sudden burst of speed as he launches himself like a running-back football player towards said cow could more land him face-first in a fresh cow pie than at the cow's side. I'm always amazed at how people don't realize just how quickly a cow can turn on a dime right from standing still. Those buggers move.

It's easy for a cow to out-maneuver a human in almost any size space, because for one she's already faster than him (the reaction time of a cow is quite a bit quicker than a human, primarily because they are already instinctively prey animals), and for another she's hard-wired to fly first and fight later, just like a horse. So all that cow will do will let out a snort and launch both front feet a foot or two off the ground enough to spin her front end around and launch herself in the opposite direction, just in time enough so that the drunk dude couldn't even catch her by the tail!

So she whips herself around, and takes off at a full gallop for a short distance. A safe distance. Then she stops looks back at the idiot who tried to charge her, and watches him intently. She'll either go back to "sleep" (ahem, grazing) with one eye and one ear pinned on this untrustworthy bastard in case he makes another attempt to "tip" her again, or keep staring at him, then move off a bit more, then repeat until he finally gives up and goes away.

So the fool will have to find another cow to try this trick again on.

They KNOW when you're up to something!
Except for one very big flaw against him: the herd mentality of cattle is equivalent to the domino effect. And there's no mooing involved, or needed; Even when just one cow gets "attacked" by any predatory animal, be it a dimpy dog or a drunken man-kid, this gets the whole herd on high alert and on the move to see what's going on. They hear all, they see all. And I'll bet you they use telepathy to communicate as well, if not body language.

So good luck to the drunken kid to try to get another cow in the same herd who already has a really good idea of what he's really up to!

Bust Those Misconceptions!

1. Cows sleep standing up.

Uh no. Its the horses sleep standing up. Cows don't. They may have a light doze on their feet as their sunning themselves in the sunlight or waiting out the storm, but they aren't having a literal sleep like horses do when they prop-up one foot and leave their weight on the other three.

Cows often sleep with their legs tucked under them and down on their bellies, or even splayed out if they want some deep REM sleep. That's how they love to ruminate and rest their weary legs after several good hours of eat, eat, eat. 
Peaceful scene

2. Cows are made of stiff plastic...

Or wood or whatever. Basically, the premise is that cows are inanimate objects that won't move when you push on them. 

Well, they're not made of plastic or wood or rubber or whatever man-made material. They're made of flesh and blood, just like you and me. They've got their soft spots and really hard ones. Their abdomens are always the soft spot, and the rest of their body--head, shoulder, hips, legs, chest--are hard and tough. 

And they're certainly not inanimate objects. 

Say you are standing beside a super-docile cow who has zero flight-zone around humans. Like nothing; she'll come up to you for scratches and rubs and hugs and kisses. Now, try pushing on that cow, just from where you're standing. What do you think she'll do? 

I'll give you the answer: She'll push back. Not with her head, but she'll lean towards you or spread her feet out just a little more to give herself a good brace against your own weight leaning on her. 

Now, if you were like a 350 lb linebacker football player that was acting like he was exploding off the line towards that poor cow--sorry, my football jargon is really poor--you might not get that cow to fall over, and you might hit her pretty hard in the chest or stomach region, but she'd more than likely jump aside and then take off running in real fear. She may fall down on her haunches or front legs in surprise, but she won't go over ass-over-teakettle. It'll take a bit more force than that. 

This makes a perfect segway for....

3. Cows can't run or buck or move fast and run away even faster.

Let me just put this video right here. 

4. Cows are blind, deaf and stupid, especially at night.

If they can see you better than you can see them, then I think that's a pretty good indication right there that they have far better hearing and sight than you do at night!

Actually, cattle have great night vision. They aren't nocturnal by much means, but that doesn't stop them from being able to see and hear very clearly at night.

Cows have panoramic vision where they can see 300º around them; 360º when they're grazing. They are also partly colourblind; they can only see yellows and blues and very slight pink. They have what's called a "choroidal tapetum lucidum" in their eyes which allows them to see at night. When you see a picture (like this below) where the eyes of cattle are glowing bright white, that's the membrane in the retina that is reflecting light back to you. That membrane is what gives animals an excellent ability to see at night.

Cows also have very sensitive hearing. This is mainly an adaptation for being prey animals. Excerpt from the BEEF Magazine article, "Silence is Golden":

Cattle are able to hear a much wider range of sound frequencies than humans. Most young adult humans can hear sound in the range of 20 to 20,000 Hertz (Hz). In middle age, the upper frequency we can hear normally declines to 12,000-15,000 Hz. 
For comparison, the strings of a piano produce musical notes from 27.5 Hz to 4,186 Hz. A “silent” dog whistle produces sounds between 5,400 and 12,800 Hz; the upper value would be barely audible to many people. The frequency hearing range of a cow, however, is from around 16 to 40,000 Hz.
 As for intelligence, cows are smarter than you think. Check out this video:

5. Humans are super-duper strong!

Some are, not all. It depends on the individual.

See, most cattle are 1400 pounds or more. Average human weighs only 150 lb, closer to 200 lb for many males. Few that are muscular get more than that, and who can lift more than their own weight. 

But to tip a cow it's not about lifting power so much as the force exerted by running at victim cow and shoving at the lower belly so hard that the cow supposedly goes over. 

And the average human being doesn't have the power to tip a cow over no matter how hard he tries. Here's the math, again for the average person:

An effective way to evaluate the average's man strength is to look at familiar exercises that work multiple muscle groups. With this in mind, the average untrained man can squat 125 pounds, bench press 135 pounds and deadlift 155 pounds.

Let me put this into perspective: 1,360 N of force equals 305.7 lbs of pound-force. Not everyone can do that without being brutes of strength like Brian Shaw or Paul Anderson.

6. Humans are sneakier and smarter than cows, even when drunk.

For your amusement.

So What to Conclude?

Cow-tipping, without a doubt is an urban myth. 

Not only is it fake, but it's really fake. 

You just need to be around cows for an hour or two to understand just how fake it is!

September 24, 2016

Why Taking Calves Away from Cows is Necessary

The dairy industry in particular is infamous for removing calves from their mothers soon after birth. Beef cow-calf operations do something similar, except that calves are much older.

So why is it done? I briefly look at  both, and bust some myths about weaning in the process.

Weaning Beef Calves

Weaning beef calves is not as contentious a topic as extremely early weaning in dairy heifers, but it still raises questions about stress and the "emotional well-being" of both cows and calves when separation is sudden and abrupt.

Traditional weaning entails separating calves from cows and putting the calves on a cattle liner, then shipping them off to a place where they neither see nor hear each other. The process is quite stressful, as pairs are moved from pasture to corrals and purposefully herded so that cows go in one pen, calves go in another, and calves are moved off the farm to a completely different location.

This leaves the cows wondering where their "babies" went, and the calves wondering where the heck they are and where their mommas left them. Both would be bawling for a good several days, pacing around, not eating or drinking much, and not resting much either. They do settle down eventually, but it does take a toll on them; calves especially are more prone to stress-related illnesses like respiratory disease.

More modern, low-stress weaning practices involve using nose flaps–those "nasty" things animal extremists were trying to vilify as being yet another "cruel tool" of the cattle industry– or fence-line weaning. Fence-line weaning is basically having a fence in between calves and cows so that they can see, hear, and smell each other, but cannot suckle.

Beef calves are typically weaned when they are 6 to 8 months old (Australian calves are generally weaned later). At this age they are big and mature enough to be on full feed or pasture without requiring more sustenance from their mother's milk. Some farmers like to wean their calves at 10 months old. The reason for this is because at this age their mother would be 2 months away from calving and needing to rest and recover enough to produce colostrum for the next calf.

Calves at this age are not babies by any stretch. They are young cattle, but they are not so young that they are needing their mothers milk for their own existence.

So why wean? Several reasons apply:

  1. It's for the sake of the cows, primarily, not so much the calves. Cows need to have good body condition going into winter (adequate fat cover). A calf that remains on his mom can "pull down" her because she is having to feed both herself and make enough milk to feed her calf. This takes a lot of effort and good quality feed to do so, and puts extra stress on the cow. 
  2. Related to 1), it relieves stress on the cow for having to meet her needs and her calf's, enough to help her gain weight for next calving. 
  3. Cows are expected to produce a calf every year, so they need have a calf weaned off of them before the next one comes. 
  4. Beef calves make up part of the farm's income, so selling them contributes to that income that goes back into the farm. 
  5. There are times where there is not enough feed to keep both cow and calf, and because cows aren't cheap to purchase, it's better to wean the calves, sell these calves or feed them separately, and keep and feed the cows separately as well. Drought is one of those times, and a time where early weaning (beef calves taken off when they're only 3 or 4 months old) may need to be considered. 

If you wish to compare cattle to animals in the wild, young animals are also weaned off their mothers for reasons relating to food supply, new young on the way, and because they are old enough to not be reliant on their mother anymore. Some young stick with their mothers, aunts, grandmas, etc. if they are a herd or flock, but others as commonly do not, and have to set out on their own.

Dairy Calves–No Udder, Just Bottle

As I said above, the dairy industry is certainly notorious for taking very young calves away from their moms within hours after birth. I for one do not agree with the practice of taking very young, baby calves away from their mothers, but on the same token I do not condone the vilification spread around by animal extremists or vegan sites for the purpose of conning people into believing things that may not be fully the truth.

But I digress. The reasons that baby dairy calves are taken away from their dams at such a young age are actually more than just so that cow can go into milk production:

  1. Calf safety. Calves tend to be quite awkward and clumsy in their first few weeks of life, and tend to get in the way or are more likely to get crushed or broken bones if their mother happens to lay on them by accident (which does happen, more often than you'd think); so its safety is really important as well as for the worker's and the cows'. (And yes they're cute little stinkers at this age). 
    1. a) Calves are also very curious critters and tend to get themselves into trouble when their moms can't get to them to get them out. They also sleep a lot in the first few weeks, then are playing and causing trouble from there until puberty.  
  2. Calf health. Calves are very sensitive to illness in the first few months of their lives, and housing them so they have their own little pens or huts reduce chance of disease spreading from calf to calf. Calves are susceptible for getting diseases like cryptospiridiosis, e. coli infections, coccidiosis, campylobacteriosis, etc. A lot of the diseases causes suffering and death if not treated. 
  3. Cow stress. Undoubtedly both the calf and the cow are going to be stressed and confused when separated so soon after birth. But when cows need to go to the parlour to be milked regularly and they have calves at side, a lot more stress and confusion–AND noise–will result when cows are separated from their calves and can't be with their calves for the short time they are milking. Some cows may not want to come to milking because they're more concerned with where their calf is than going for regular milking. Young cows may be the most notorious for this. 
  4. Milk production. Yes, having a calf on with their dams means lowered milk production; less milk going into the tank than what a farmer would like to have means less income coming out. This matters if dairy cows and their milk are a farmer's only source of income. (But, calves need less milk than what a dairy cow typically produces, so technically a calf isn't taking that much milk from what a cow can give when hooked up at the milking parlour.) 
  5. Make management simpler. Having calves away in another barn makes things simpler for feeding, care, and monitoring than working around them with the main cow herd. If the public finally gets dairies to not take dairy calves so early, extra management and a new look at the conventional system will be needed to accommodate those calves and promote that cow-calf bond that a lot of people are wanting to see from many dairies. It can be done, yes, but it takes time, a lot of brain power, and labour to think about what changes to make to make things better, and then make those changes happen. 
Of course, it doesn't help the whole cow-calf bonding situation with dairy operations when they are particularly large-scale, and indoors.

But the other thing to understand is that a lot of dairy cows aren't selected to be good mothers with a strong maternal instinct to protect their calves like with beef cows. A dairy farmer doesn't need to have cows that are protective of their young and be able to establish a bond quickly within the first few hours after birth because that cow and that calf won't be seeing nor needing one another after the next 24 to 36 hours after birth.

Also, there's a lot of cows on the milk line that don't really know what to do if they have a little calf chasing after them trying to get at their udder. Many of them have gotten so used to having their young taken away from them that they don't raise a fuss over it much, not like when they were first-calf heifers or young cows.

Calves aren't denied milk at such a young age; they are fed milk replacers that meet their nutritional needs. There's some argument that milk replacers either aren't enough for the calf, or that they don't provide the same kind of nutritional benefit like they would suckling from their dam.

Smaller-scale farms that can afford to keep cows and calves together and be able to still get milk from those cows are probably better off. Makes one wonder if the future is going to be like the latter rather than what the current situation for dairy cows is.

Who knows. 

September 21, 2016

"Reuniting" Cow with Calf: What's Actually Going On??

What goes through your mind when you see a video like this?

Did you get that feel-good feeling in your heart after seeing it, or did you watch it with a sense that something is definitely not right here? Ignore the Mariah Carey song as it just added to the sappiness and cheesiness of the entire video.

If you were the latter, then you'd be one of the few, including myself, that seen and understood that there was a whole lot of misinformation going on here.

And there is a whole lot of misinterpretations and misinformation going on, so much that it was hard to know where to begin even when I first started seeing it. It's best, though, to go in chronological order.

Scene 1: Bellering cow

We're brought to this Hereford beef cow named "Karma" who was apparently "rescued" from whatever fate bestowed here, being the talkative girl she is in the video.

We're made to believe that the reason that she's bawling so much is because she is calling for her calf with the whole, mother-calf relationship being so strong, cows are intelligent, blah, blah, blah.

Ironically, the caption at 0:57 to 1:08 read that the rescuers had no idea what was wrong, why she was so-called "crying" through the night. So why were they saying that she was missing her baby, that you could "almost feel her pain" and literally setting the stage right from the get go that she was missing her calf??

What bugs me here too is that the people in this video–I'm not stooping to the level of calling them "rescuers"–literally do not have a clue why she's bellering so much or why she's dripping milk. She could be pregnant and near calving for all we know; She may have just been weaned from her real calf, not the fake "real" calf as we'll see soon in the video. She could be bawling because she's hungry; or, she could just be mooing because she just likes to talk; I did hear from someone that Herefords are particularly talkative creatures. She could even be in heat and hollering for a bull!

And feeling sorry for her wasn't going to solve the problem why she was really bellering, certainly not from a bunch of "rescuer" dummies who really had no idea about bovine behaviour, OR breeds for that matter.

But she wasn't "crying." Cows don't cry. They don't do emotional very well, because they're prey animals. Should they show any weakness, emotional or physical, they get taken down by a predator. Every single cow, deer, songbird and rabbit knows this. But that's not to say that cows don't show emotions; they do, it's just far more subtler than in humans. Or dogs.

Scene 2: Arrival of the Jersey Calf

Here's where things get super stupid and cheesey all at once. Mariah Carey ain't helping in this situation.

So the trailer arrives and Karma, who was actually quiet for once and sitting down chewing her cud, like she should be, and not pacing around like a real momma cow would looking for her calf, gets up in "hopes of finally getting the response she's been desperately searching for."

Now they're really stretching it. That cow was sitting down, not pacing around. Desperation in a cow is up and pacing the fenceline, not sitting recumbent, all relaxed and ruminating.

And here's the other thing: In this 4.41 minute video this cow, more than likely a 3-year old young cow, looks like just some young cull cow they "rescued" from a salebarn; They probably liked her coat colour and thought she'd be an ideal candidate to "rescue."

Just like the haltered calf they brought out: They weren't actually looking for this cow's calf because they had no damn clue what he or she even looked like. So they just picked some random calf up from another salebarn, called it a "rescue" and claimed that it, well, might be her calf, in hopes that she'll take him on and finally shut up.

Except that the calf that came out of that trailer was NOT her calf.

The bull calf that came out of that trailer was 100% Jersey. I know my cattle breeds, but just to prove a point I purposefully did a Google search on "Jersey calves" and came up with a picture like this:

Look familiar? The calf in this photo is a few months younger, but I think I made my point crystal clear.

Scene 3: The "Greeting"

Look, I get the whole fuzzy-mushy thing about animals greeting and being reunited long-lost friends and human family-members, but this was just too much. 

First, we see that Karma and her pal, Chante, a Holstein heifer, were supposedly "desperately trying to get to the baby..." 

What I was seeing was two very curious heifers trying to get at this new arrival; trying to get a better smell and sight of the new stranger. And of course because it was a young, healthy, bouncy calf, they could sense its stress and excitement and were acting in the same way. So no, they weren't eagerly greeting the "baby." 

Nor was the calf "eager to greet its mom." This Jersey calf, full of piss and vinegar as they tend to be, was more focused on fighting the lead and halter it was forced to wear, acting all dramatic and such to try to convince these stupid humans to get it off and leave him be. It's typical Jersey behaviour to be throwing himself down–he certainly didn't fall down–and being the dramatic little shit he was. And typical cow behaviour to be all stressed and worked up about being in a new environment with a new herd to be introduced to. 

The way those cows were sniffing at him, they weren't that happy to see him. As a matter of fact when he got back up on his feet again–without help, again–he made a move to go away from the bossy heifers. And the video clip was cut from there so we couldn't see the abuse he had to go through from those two heifers giving him the run-down on the bovine pecking order. 

Third thing that was wrong with this picture was the attempt to stress just how so "weak and tired" the calf was; Oh so malnourished and hungry he was, falling down and needing "help to get back up!" 

Dear God, give me a break!! 

Do you want to see what weak, hungry, and tired a truly malnourished calf looks like? Here, I'll show you: 

Again, I think I made my point quite clear. 

But just to be even more clear, that calf was anything but hungry and weak. Compared to some of the pictures I have seen and put on this post of truly malnourished calves, that Jersey calf was/is fat, healthy, strong, and full of life; rather, full of piss and vinegar. 

When I look for malnourishment in cattle I look to see if the hips, spine, and ribs are protruding sharply out. And the quality of the video may not be the greatest, but it does not hide the fact that there is a healthy layer of fat over the hips, spine, and ribs enough you can't even see the ruddy bones. 

I think the Gentle Barn needs to do a helluva lot better job at portraying "weak and hungry" calves next time they think about putting a video on a public domain like YouTube.

Scene 4: The Nursing Pair

So the Hereford accepted the calf, so what. This pair isn't even related to each other. Let me explain.

That heifer, Karma, is a Hereford cow. A beef cow. The calf, whatever his name is, is a Jersey calf. A dairy calf. Herefords and Jerseys do not look the same. 

This should be really obvious. 

Now, if that was indeed Karma's calf, Karma wouldn't be a Hereford. She would be a Jersey cow. But she's not, is she?

If the calf truly belonged to Karma, he would be a much different colour. No black nose and hooves, a deep red or even black coat, with a white face; may be brockled, may be white with some speckling like her. Her calf–her real calf–may look something like this:

Or this:

Or even something like this:

Basically, her calf would have the white face, or brockle colouration like with the black calf above. 

But he sure as heck wouldn't look like this

What does a Jersey-Hereford look like? Well, they look something like these calves:

While there's nothing wrong with a cow being a surrogate mom, what is wrong is that a) this video is basically a big lie about a cow and a calf being supposedly "reunited", b) the calf is at the age where he does not need that cow's milk, and is big and fat enough to get on with it, and c) we've been lead to believe a particular situation that is very much untrue. 

And why was that cow still hollering even after she greeted or was "reunited" what was supposedly "her" calf? Why was she allowing him to suckle, yet acting just like she was before, with the same exact tones she was using when she was bellering right at the beginning?! 

Because, for one: That's NOT her calf!!

And there's obviously something else, some much deeper reason why she's still "crying." 

We'll never know what. 

September 20, 2016

Milking a Cow Doesn't Hurt Her

Many people ask the same question when they see a dairy cow having a milk machine attached to her body:

Are you hurting a cow by milking her?

The short answer is no.

The long answer is still no. But with an explanation as to why.

A cow's udder is a sensitive organ that is designed so that her calf can latch on with his mouth and get that highly nutritious opaque, white body fluid we call "milk" from her. It is quite like a woman's breasts, which also fill up with milk soon after birthing.

So just an aside: Cows, and all female mammals, produce milk soon after birth. So in order to produce milk, they must give birth, not be pregnant.

Now, just imagine that sensitive organ filling up with milk to the point where it literally looks swollen. Again, this is a sensitive organ we're talking about here. When a sensitive organ is swollen for whatever reason, it gets painful.

Think of a more disgusting situation: You have an abscess or boil that is pus-filled on the inside of your leg. Is that going to be a painful boil? I sure hope you said yes because if you said no I'd be worried!

So when that cow's udder keeps producing milk and there's no calf or human hands or milk machine to relieve that painful pressure that keeps building and building, it is indeed painful and quite uncomfortable for that cow. Just like that boil between your legs: It gets so full of pus that it's painful, and the only way to relieve it is to release that pus inside.

Now, let me get this straight: Milking out a cow is FAR less disgusting than lancing a boil or abscess. And the resulting fluid is quite a bit more nourishing!!

Another aside: Milk doesn't have pus in it. If it did, no calf would be able to subsist well on it.

When a cow is milked out, that is a relief for her. It makes the pain go away, and she feels much better. Cows always like it when things happen to them that make them feel safe and happy, and pain-free. Regular milking is associated with this particular feeling.

Cattle are always going to go toward a source that makes them feel good. This is why dairy cows don't need to be made to go to milking. Rather, they are waiting at the gate and eager to get into the milking parlour, before the people who are going to milk them out are even ready to do so. 

Let me put it again this way: When something positive and rewarding that gives or means comfort and not painful, animals seek out that source or point in time again and again.

Cows get accustomed to regular milking because a) they’re creatures of habit and like it when things are kept on a timely schedule, no matter if it’s feeding, milking, whatever; and b) milking, as a pain and stress-reliever, becomes something cows quickly learn as a positive reward; all animals, including us humans (normally), don’t like things that cause pain and discomfort, and once something painful and discomforting has gone, we–or they–do our/their best to avoid it happening again. 

So since milking is in fact associated with a good-feeling thing for the cows, they are eagerly (and albeit patiently) awaiting the workers or farmer at the gate to be let in for milking time.

But what can be painful with milking for a cow is if they have mastitis, which is a bacterial infection of the udder; usually it occurs in one quarter, rarely more. Milking-out can be somewhat of a relief, but any bumping or excessive pulling can be considerably painful; sometimes mastitis gets so bad that even touching the infected quarter can cause a cow to kick out or move in discomfort. Mastitis is all too common in dairies, though many practices of good hygiene and regular cleaning is made so that incidences are reduced with the target of elimination.

But overall, milking is not painful for cows. It would only appear so because, for young cows, having a milk machine attached to their teats is foreign and something they need to get used to.