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!