How Herds Work

Herds are like groups of people in many ways. When people live in tribes or come together in groups for school, sport, associations or clubs there is always a structure that holds the group together.

 c yellow It is the same with a herd of cattle - herds have a structure. The structure is hierarchical. This means that there is an order where one cow is at the top and the other cows come under her in descending order.

Herd Leader

The herd will have a herd leader, cows of different sizes, ages and temperaments, calves of different ages and a bull.

c orang The herd leader is usually a strong, calm cow that has earned to respect of all the herd members. The herd leader leads. If cattle are going somewhere they will look to the herd leader to take them into unfamiliar situations.

Dusty is our herd leader. She even takes time out to chastise a cow while she is feeding and grooming her calf.

c orang The herd leader is ever watchful and will always be the first to see anything strange happening in the area the cattle are in. They warn the herd of any danger.

c orang In return the herd leader gets to be first. They get to be first in line for the water trough, food troughs and extra food that comes into the paddock like hay. They are also more likely to be the one that leads the herd into any new paddock.

The Status of Other Cows

The other cows in the herd all have their own status within the herd. The status is mutually agreed on by all herd members.

c red The order is agreed on by the individual cows. If a cow wants to improve her status in the herd she has to convince the cow 'above' her in the order that she deserves it. This will mean a confrontation. Cows will 'square off' with one another.

Two younger heifers sorting one another out.

c red If one cow singles out another cow and displays aggressive postures towards her, then the scene has been set for a decision or a show down. Both cows must decide what to do. If one cow chooses to back away, then she remains submissive to the other cow. If neither cow backs away, a tousle will result.

c red The tousle is a sophisticated thing. The cows have to convince each other to back away without being too aggressive. A cow that becomes too aggressive to win the tousle, risks losing the respect of the herd. The other cows will be frightened of her and within a herd this is not a good thing. The herd is strong if everyone is bonded.

c red So there will be a fight. A fight will involve the butting of heads, pushing and shoving with heads. Cows will try to dominate one another. The rest of the herd watches or goes about their business staying out of harm's way.

c red The fight will last until one cow backs away (or runs away). Then the new order has been established. Fights usually do not involve either cow being seriously hurt. It is not in the interests of the herd as a whole to have an individual herd member damaged in any way.

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