Humans domesticated livestock thousands of years ago, but the animals raised and bred on farms and ranches are still wild at heart. Knowing how they will behave as you feed, breed, and transport them can help prevent a serious injury to them or to you.
“You can tell when a dog is going to be aggressive,” said Amanda Latcham, a farm claims adjuster with Grinnell Mutual. “It’s a different story with farm animals.”
Whether it’s on the farm or at a fair, Grinnell Mutual recommends being aware of your surroundings to prevent a kick, bite, or other injury from an animal.
Be aware of your surroundings
Livestock, particularly cattle, have long memories of their experiences, according to the University of Wisconsin extension. For animals, being tame is a learned behavior. When livestock sense danger, they may choose to fight or to get away.
“When you get into an animal’s environment it may not cooperate because it wants out of that situation. I’ve had sheep jump over my shoulder,” said Latcham, who owns a sheep farm with her husband and family. “An animal has a mind of its own and does not like to be singled out.”
One way to prevent fight or flight is to avoid walking behind animals. Cattle have panoramic vision and their only blind spot is directly behind them. This may help to prevent a cow or horse from kicking you. Just as you don’t want to approach an animal from the rear, don’t turn your back on animals.
“If there’s a bull in the pen and you have your back to him, something could set him off and he will go after you,” said Latcham.
At the fair, unfamiliar sights and sounds can make animals more unpredictable.
“They can be a little bit crabby,” said Latcham, who has also been active with the Poweshiek County 4-H Fair. “Usually it’s incredibly hot and they just want to be left alone. It’s just a different environment for them. We’ve had sheep jump out and cows and calves get untethered. It's difficult to catch an animal that's been spooked.”
Breeding and birthing
During breeding season, male animals tend to display aggressive, territorial behavior.
“Bulls will be bulls, especially during breeding season,” said Latcham. “If you have two bulls in a pen or a small feedlot, you know they’re going to fight. They are very territorial. They might knock over a gate, get out, and get into the road. If someone is out there, they might get hurt.”
Female livestock also experience hormone changes. During calving time hormones can cause the mothers of newborn animals to be protective and aggressive.
“I know not to go near a cow right after a she has a calf because she’s not going to be very nice. If I tried to pet the new calf, she could head butt or kick me,” said Latcham. “Some of our ewes will be mean no matter what I do. I leave them alone and give them distance while they’re lambing.”