This topic has been near and dear to my leg since this last Tuesday when a ten to eleven month old bull kicked me! Thankfully it was JUST my leg J. To put your mind at ease, I assure you I am fine and the leg is hurting a bit, but healing well. In fact, I am sort of ashamed to even write such a story because I grew up around cattle and know how they behave. But that just goes to show that cattle are dangerous – especially bulls. No matter how much experience you think you have, you must be careful. So here’s my story. As an intern on Maddox Dairy, I wanted (and still want) to get a lot of hands on experience and that is just what I was doing. At ten forty in the morning I climbed back behind the headlocks to give four bulls their shots. I went up to the first two bulls and jacked up their tails so they couldn’t kick and gave them their shots just fine. (If you are unfamiliar with tail jacking see the FYI below.) Then I did that same to the third bull, jacking his tail up in the air so he couldn’t kick me. With his tail in one hand and the syringe in the other I gave him the first shot in his right flank. Then I stepped back to reload the syringe for his left flank. I jacked his tail one more time and started giving him the shot. Then all of the sudden he started to dance around, my grip weakened, and before I could move – BAM! It happened fast! He got his shot and I guess you could say I got mine! So now I have a nice big bruise on my left quad muscle. Hence, I chose to write about safety around bulls. As an animal handler on a daily basis at the dairy, I know the benefit of understanding cattle behavior patterns. (Even if I did get kicked this week. ;)) Behavioral patterns of cattle are heavily relied upon not only for safety of the animals, but also for safety of the handlers. They are also indicators of the health and well-being of the cattle too.
Bulls are considered one of the most dangerous domestic animals. There are many breeds, sizes and dispositions, but none of them should be trusted. Temple Grandin, a world-renowned animal behavior expert wrote a short article called Preventing Bull Accidents. In it I found out that, “The most dangerous dairy bull is a bull that has not been properly socialized to his own kind. When a young bull calf becomes mature at age two, he needs to challenge the top bull in the herd. If the bull calf has been raised alone and has not had the opportunity to interact with other cattle, he thinks he is a person and he wants to exert his dominance over the “herd”. This can result in dangerous attacks on people.” I encourage you to read that whole article at the link below. Her expertise makes a lot of sense and it goes to show how important it is that anyone handling bulls understands their behavioral patterns.
I enlisted the help of Jack Albright’s Hoard’s Dairyman article, Why and How to Read a Cow or Bull, to help explain bull behavior. Bull’s specific behavior patterns can be a display of threats, a challenge, or a territorial activity and who would have guessed these activities flow from one to the other! The display of a threat is the broadside display of a bull’s body; this means that something or someone has invaded his space (anywhere within twenty feet of him). He will show his body broadside for his greatest profile, showing how powerful he is. Then his head will go down and if the fight is what he decides to pursue he will start shaking his head, protruding his eyeballs and the hair on his back will stand erect. A direct threat is a bit different; he will stand head-on to the opponent with his head lowered, shoulders hunched and neck curved to the side toward the opponent. He may also paw with his front feet, making dirt fly or start rubbing the ground and horning it too.
If a bull does display any of these threatening signs to any opponent, another bull or person, and the bull or person slowly moves at least twenty feet away, the encounter may pass and the bull may turn away. If not, the bull will circle the opponent, and basically charge. At the first sign of any threatening behavior, humans should avoid the bull and obviously exit ASAP! If you go into a pen with bulls make sure you have a quick, predetermined exit route. Accidents are not always preventable but when you know behavior patterns and heed their warnings the incidence can be less.
Other important things to remember:
Proper bull handling facilities should be installed before bringing bulls on a farm.
Signs should be posted for visitors and employees where bulls are present.
Keep all inexperienced individuals away from and out of pens with bulls.
Bulls showing any sign of aggression should be sent away as soon as possible.
You should never turn your back to a bull. You can’t read his behavior when he is behind you.
A bull should never get a second chance no matter how good he might be.
Most importantly learn and know bull behavior patterns. It could save your life, or someone else’s that you love.
Experienced, brave, fast, and daring people die in bull accidents; if you remember anything from this article remember that handling bulls is very serious business. In 2010, a bull killed a woman in central Minnesota while she was just out moving cattle with her husband one evening. She left behind several kids and her husband.
FYI: Tail jacking is similar to the act of pressing your opponents head down in a fight so I they can’t throw a punch at you, or kick you! All you do is push the bovines tail straight in the air; it doesn’t hurt them it just prevents them from kicking you; at least it is supposed to J.