Jousting for poll position

Scuffles broke out right across the paddock as the weak winter sun lit the stage for a bovine pugilism festival. The cows were feeling magnificent and, unable to contain their energy, were ready to take on all comers.

jousting jousting2 jousting3

The kids and I love watching the cows “do butter-heads” and the cows seem to love it, too. For every pair or trio engaged in warfare, there will be a group of curious onlookers and one scuffle seems to inspire more outbreaks.

Does butter-heads have a serious purpose though? Yes, it does. The herd has a very structured pecking order. Cows come into the dairy in roughly the same order every milking and the smallest and most timid are inevitably last. Mess them up by splitting the herd into seemingly random groups for a large-scale vet procedure like preg testing and you can expect trouble. There are cows thrust into leadership positions who don’t want to go into the yard first and lots more poo than usual.

I am sure that in days gone by, these battles were often fought to the death. Strong, razor sharp horns with 550kg of muscle and bone behind them are fearsome weapons. Our calves have their horn buds removed as painlessly as we can manage it early on to avoid far greater traumas later in life and for our own protection.

Soon, they will be spared even this discomfort. Dairy cows are being bred “polled” (without horns) and, eventually, we will have a herd that is naturally hornless. It’s not easy finding suitable polled bulls yet but our breeding centre tells me that demand from dairy farmers for polled semen is now “huge”.

I have my eyes on a couple of German polled beaux for our ladies. I only hope we can get them in time for this year’s mating season.

We’re all individuals: the herd mentality

The Life of Daisy

The Life of Daisy

A quote from the Life of Brian (1979) springs to mind whenever I see our cow ‘Solo’ at the end of the yard:

Brian: Look, you’ve got it all wrong. You don’t need to follow me. You don’t need to follow anybody! You’ve got to think for yourselves! You’re all individuals!
The Crowd: Yes! We’re all individuals!
Brian: You’re all different!
The Crowd: Yes! We’re all different!
Man in crowd: I’m not…

The herd instinct remains strong, even in our dairy cows who’ve been domesticated for thousands of years. It’s so strong that if one cow heads the wrong way during rounding up, we generally don’t worry – she’ll head back to her herd mates anyway.

But every now and then you meet a true individual like Solo. The entire herd faces the dairy in anticipation of breakfast or dinner with the exception of this one member, who, without fail, heads to the north-west corner of the yard and gives everyone else the cold shoulder. She doesn’t want to rush out the gates (as you can see, they’re wide open in the pic above). Instead, Solo likes to poke her nose into the gatepost.

Generally, cows that hang towards the back of the yard are at the bottom of the pecking order, pushed back by more dominant cows eager to get into the shed. That’s not Solo, who’s strong, average-sized for our herd and in her prime. Just a little different, that’s all.