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With calving season just beginning, the thought comes to mind on cow temperament.

The “here kitty, kitty” cow

Most seasoned cattlemen have seen them. Those cows that you have to use 3 tractors and 8’ panels to catch and tag the calf to have a remote chance without being eaten for breakfast. Hope you have your running shoes on!

The “Widower” cow

Then there’s the cows that you see in the videos. We all laugh at but we know just how serious the cow is. Her calf usually doesn’t get tagged. Which is a good way to know which cow and calf need to go!

She ain’t bluffin…

Next are the cows that snort, dig, growl, and with a calf catch pen or extra help you can get the calf handled within a few days after birth.

Then there’s the cows that tolerate you after about 3 days. When the calf isn’t so easily caught anymore.

CALM cow with a wet newborn calf.

The British White Temperament

The majority of commercial and other breeds of cows hopefully fall into this category along with the vast majority of British White cattle:
Where you can walk up to a calf and tag it, weigh it, whatever, without any drama from the cow. She steps back and waits and watches patiently, or slightly impatiently without her feet getting the dust moving.

But what makes a good cow like that “go bad”?

Being totally honest, I’ve had cattle for 22+ years and been around cows all my life. I’ve been chased by more Holstein cows with a new calf than my British White beefs.

Thanks, but I don’t really want to go there with a bad tempered cow no matter how great a calf she raises.

We have had 5 cows out of well over 1000 that I wouldn’t turn my back on.

*The Leased cow: this heifer calved and I happened to see it. The sack was over the nose, so I rushed a little too quickly to help the calf. The heifer threw me a few feet away and we didn’t get along. She left a couple months later. The owner was fully aware her temperament was bad when he picked them up.

*Cow 1, was fine the first 2 years then for some unknown reason her calf died at about 5 months old. Was never sick, just died. She has had 10 more calves. 7 of them, we were a little sneaky about tagging it. She was not going to let anyone too close at first. The last 3 she was fine like she originally was. None of her daughters have acted mistrusting.

*Cow 2 this cow has produced 12 calves so far, she also was fine at first, but without any reason we could figure other than she was angry we weaned her calf the year before, she wasn’t very nice anymore. The last couple years she has been fine. She just walks away and lets me tag the calf. Her daughter’s have all been very nice cows.

*Cow 3 was a purchased cow. I have no idea why that cow was the way she was. Maybe she was a cross bred, and carried some of the cross attitude. But she only stuck around a couple years before I was fed up with her and sent her to processing. Her calves were steers so there was no worry about heifers.

*Cow 4
3 years ago, this middle age cow never gave a worry. But that spring we had been seeing eagles every morning picking up cleanings and flying off. As near as we could figure, that cow had an eagle upset her, and after that she has been more protective than average when babies are about.
In her case, she’s being a good mother, and herd member, but for the safety of our own family, she is on the short list to be processed for being untrustworthy or forgetting that humans are not predators.

Sometimes we just don’t know what makes a good cow go bad. Or what triggers a heifer to be that way. While I hope no one ever sees a cow like some that I described above, do know that with a British White Herd, the instance is extremely low. With a percentage roughly under .5%
I honestly don’t know what percent is average in other breeds.

I will grant that there are areas where vultures or buzzards are a real danger to calving cows and new babies. Cows like cow #4 might be tolerated on places like that, but in a British White herd, she better know the difference between a human and a buzzard.

Pictured is a nice gentle heifer with her new calf. This heifer was born in the mountains of Montana. Right in mountain lion territory, and had also learned to deal with wolves, and coyotes. Yet she knows the difference between humans and predators.