Are cattle really friendly?
The pros and cons of owning tame cattle can be complicated. Most farmers love their cattle. It is a complicated love. From a nonfarmer’s perspective, it seems paradoxical. You love something that you are raising to kill. As a farmer, I can’t exactly explain it, but it is true. I love my cattle, and yet we raising it to kill it. It isn’t easy. But it is farm life. Farmers also want to give our cattle the best possible life it can have.
Imagine with me for a moment, having a farm with loving, friendly cows. You will go out into the pasture and simply call your cows and they will come running to you and nuzzle their big, wet noses against your head. They will frock around you and hang on your every move. Eat clumps of fresh grass out of your hands.
However, in reality, that is not natural cattle behavior. Cattle normally have a healthy fear for humans. Today, I want to share my experience with tame cattle and give you the pros and cons of tame cattle. Having tame cattle can be convenient, but it can also be very dangerous.
What are tame cattle?
Since we have a small farm, we really enjoy our animals. We have had many tame cows. What is a tame cow? A tame cow is not necessarily a cow that will come running when you call it like a dog would or should. Nor is a tame cow one you can go up and give a big hug to. Although we have had cows like that.
Instead, my definition of a tame cow is a cow that you can walk up to and she doesn’t take off running. She may be hesitant, but she will tolerate you. Most cows have a healthy fear of people because they have not had human interaction.
Hand Raised Calves
Typically, you cannot tame adult cattle that have not been hand raised. By hand raised, I mean it was either bottle fed as a calf or it was handled daily by humans as a calf. Most animals must have human interaction from very young to be tame. A common example, I can think of is cats. Most people are familiar with feral (or wild) cats. The mother kept the kittens hidden and they have had no human interaction. They grow up with a very healthy fear of humans. Taming an adult feral cat is dangerous because you can be bitten or scratched. Now imagine trying to tame an adult cow. You will not be bitten or scratched, rather trampled or kicked by a 1200 lb animal.
The pros and cons of owning tame cattle
Domino, our first tame beef cow
Maybe you have tame cows and you are thinking that YOUR cow will never turn on you or hurt you. Let me tell you about our dear, pet beef cow, Domino. She was hand raised by my husband due to her mother falling ill after her birth. This calf was raised by a bottle and a sweet and docile cow. She would always nuzzle her nose against you and look for a head-scratching.
Domino lived on our farm for many, many years. However, when she was older, she became ornery. When our oldest son was just a toddler, we were safely (or so I thought) on the other side of the gate. For some unknown reason, she pushed her head through a gate and knocked my son down. Thankfully, both my husband and I were right there to swoop him up and out of the way. We realized then, that you cannot fully trust even the most docile cow.
Laura, My son’s first tame cow
Fast forward six or so years. The same son, who was now around 8 years old was given the responsibility to raise a bottle beef calf whose mother didn’t produce enough milk to feed her calf. We ended up selling the mother and keeping the calf, naming her Laura after Laura Ingalls Wilder. My son fed Laura by bottle twice a day for several months. She grew up and became one of the herd and two years later had her own calf.
Here is just a side note bonus tip. Do not name your cows unless you are willing to fall in love with them. Animals with names are much more difficult to sell or butcher. Stick with my story, to see why. I will say it again, Never name an animal you are not willing to keep.
Almanzo, My son’s second tame calf
Back to Laura. What do you suppose happened? She inherited the inability to produce enough milk to feed her calf. She had a bull calf that we named Almanzo. My son, now 10 years old raised him the same way he raised Laura. Feeding him twice a day with a bottle. Since he loved Laura now, we decided to give her one more chance to raise a calf on her own.
We kept Almanzo, the tame bull calf. We decided to make him a steer and raise him up to butcher for beef for our family. After one and a half years, he was ready to butcher. No one in my family wanted to eat him. We ended up selling him at the market which was very difficult because we had grown to love him and he was tame and trusted us.
Rose, My son’s third tame calf
My son now officially has a herd of tame cattle now. The next year, Laura had Rose, her first heifer calf. Yet again, he raised Rose by the bottle. If you are a Little House on the Prairie fan, you may see a pattern in the naming of our cattle.
Frank, My son’s fourth tame calf
Now, in the summer of 2019, Laura has had yet another calf. This time it is another bull calf named Frank. I guess we have departed from the Little House on the Prairie theme. He is a beautiful calf, but we are bottle feeding him due to Laura’s inability to produce enough milk.
If nothing else, these tame calves have taught my son the responsibility of caring for cattle both morning and night. He has built a herd for himself and he is making some money to attend college with the steers that he sells.
Bottle Raised Calves
Bottle raising a calf is the easiest and surest way to tame a calf. The calf simply views you as its source of nourishment and within a few days will come running to you. Usually, bottle calves are from dairy cows that are used for milking. We have raised many Jersey and Holstein calves. You can read more about raising bottle calves here. You can read more about where to purchase bottle calves here. Raising this kind of calves is different than raising beef calves in my opinion because you are raising them to sell at market. Which, I guess, in theory, you raise beef calves to sell too. But personally, I get attached to my beef cows more than my steers.
The pros and cons of owning tame cattle in your herd
The Cons of Tame cattle
Let’s get the bad news out of the way first. There are cons to owning tame cattle. Like I said earlier, having one or two tame cows is a possibility, but tame cows will cause you problems. Think about it, cows weigh 1200 lbs or more. God made these animals to have a fear of humans. If a cow learns not to be fearful of people, they will take advantage of you. They may walk through you like you are not there. Having tame cows can be dangerous and it is important to keep your eye on them when you are around them because they do not understand their own size and that they can hurt you.
If a tame cow is in pain or feels trapped, it may charge you. Remember Domino. We do not know exactly what caused her to ram the gate. Perhaps since she was older, she was having some pain.
The Pros of Tame Cows
The good news when it comes to the pros and cons of owning tame cattle. Having a tame cow or two is helpful in leading the whole herd. Since cattle are herd animals, they want to be together. It is their nature and their defense against predators. When we have a tame cow in our herd, we can usually take a 5-gallon bucket out into the pasture and stick it under the tame cow’s nose and lead the entire herd to an enclosure.
There are a couple of things to note with this method. The tame cow must be bucket trained. That means using the same type of bucket that was used to feed the cow when it was a calf. Secondly, the rest of the herd will have tasted grain as a young calf to realize how delicious it is and want it as an adult.
The pros and cons of owning tame cattle is a tricky and time-consuming decision to make. For the size of our herd, it is helpful to have a tame cow or steer in the herd, but we must be ready to deal with the emotions of parting with what has become a pet and also be alert to bossy behavior by an enormous animal. I hope this article has helped you consider the pros and cons of owning tame cattle and helps you make an informed decision.