Understanding cattle behaviour is critical

By Gary Sliworsky
Ag rep, Emo

The observation and assessment of behaviour patterns in cattle is important in determining health, minimizing stressful or painful situations, assisting in the improvement of production practices, and providing for the well-being of animals.
Understanding and recognizing cattle behavior is critical in the proper design of livestock facilities, during transportation, and during procedures involving the interaction of handlers and animals.
Cattle exhibit daily behaviour cycles, especially for resting, grazing, and ruminating. These daily patterns may be dependent on the light-dark cycle, dietary components, age of animal, temperature, and other stimuli.
Cattle spend a variable amount of time eating, depending on their diet and its availability. Those grazing on pasture, for instance, spend a large portion of time eating whereas cattle fed a concentrated diet spend relatively less time eating.
Most eating occurs during two periods of the day—just after dawn and before dusk.
Cattle spend about 20 episodes each day in a drowsy or sleep state that may total seven-eight hours of rest.
Social grouping and spatial relationships are important considerations, especially in confinement systems. Cattle are social animals. Dominance, or the “pecking order,” determines the hierarchy within the herd.
It is a learned and predictable relationship between a pair of animals, where one consistently is submissive to the other.
Dominance order is not permanent and may change depending on the age, health, or production status of the herd members.
Production losses can occur if space is not adequate for proper social spacing of each animal.
Many variables influence social space, including floor type, water availability, feeder space, pen mates, sickness, pen shape, and environmental factors such as fly prevalence, shade availability, and temperature.
Cattle possess a natural following tendency, which is especially evident when a herd is threatened or aroused. Following behaviour may be dependent on the animal’s ability to maintain visual contact with other animals.
The flight zone of an animal may determine how close a handler can approach an animal (the flight zone is an area surrounding an individual and moves with the animal).
Both following behaviour and flight zone are important considerations to minimize stress while handling and moving animals, or designing facilities.
It usually is less stressful to move cattle in small groups than individually.
Dates to remember
•June 25–Food safety and traceability information meeting. Call 1-800-461-6132 to register.

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