Bulls and behavior

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Dec 28, 2003
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MO Ozarks
This is from another board. Although it is directed at dairy bulls, the majority of what she says also applies to ANY bull


OK, first- we ARE talking about a dairy bull here, right?

If so, and if you don't have a LOT of experience with animals, specifically
breeding animals, please DO NOT keep a bull.

Actually, I suppose it's possible a novice would be slightly safer than
someone who has gotten jaded and used to having a bull around, but they can
NOT be trusted. You have to ALWAYS be on your guard, never turning your
back for a second. The old timers who kept herd bulls (and of course, they
didn't have any choice) kept them in specially designed bull pens, built of
at least 2" pipe. They were designed so no one EVER had to go into the pen
with the bull for routine matters- feeding, watering was done from the
outside. It was set up so the bull could be herded into an outside
enclosure and closed out of the pen while someone was cleaning it. And
people were STILL killed and maimed.

These days, too many farmers run a bull or more than one with the cows. In
our small area, I know personally four farmers- experienced men in their
50's- who are permanently damaged as a result of a run in with a bull. I
know of AT LEAST half a dozen others from neighborly gossip who have had
serious (extended stays in the hospital) injuries from bulls- and these are
all in the past 2-3 years.

I could try to describe the "look" one gets when they start thinking they
are king of the world. I could try to describe how strong a big bull is (or
even a small one). You probably wouldn't believe me, and the "look" is
something you either can read or not.

At least three of the men who were hurt said "I knew he was getting nasty,
but I just wanted to keep him around a few more weeks until the young bull
started doing more of his job". One told me "that bull never would have
hurt a fly. I don't know what made him attack me, but it might have been
the herd dog behind me."

I've raised four bulls and used them on the farm over the past 25 years.
One was kept around until he was a 1700# three year old, and I was the one
who handled him when we drew semen from him, and I was the one who led him
onto the truck to ship him for beef. But I didn't trust him for a second
for the last 18 months.

I also started to raise a couple others, which were mean from a few weeks
old. Not "attack" mean, not at that age, but obviously pushy, all too
willing to strike at someone with their head and shove you into a wall.
Only a truly stupid person would have kept them around. I like life too
much to be that dumb.

All you need to do is get between a bull and someplace he wants to be- or a
cow he considers "his". That will be ALL cows in heat, or even coming into
heat- long before you see any signs. You MAY get lucky and be able to roll
or crawl under the fence before he turns you into mush. The guys that
survived the attacks around here did just that- although crawling 10 feet
with a dislocated shoulder, crushed pelvis and seven fractured ribs isn't
something I'd try for fun.

It only takes a second's distraction for a bull to get you. It may take a
couple of years to recover- as much as you are going to recover.

What is the advantage of owning a bull? Finding cows in heat? Other cows
are darn good at that, if they're healthy and on good footing. Experienced
farmers get awfully good at it, as well. If you don't have the experience
to see the differences in behavior of a cow coming into heat, you don't
have enough to see the difference in the eyes of a bull just before he
tries to kill you.

AI, done carefully, will match conception by a bull- or beat it. Most of us
here know of people who have brought in an entire heifer group at the end
of summer, only to find them all open- the bull was "shooting blanks".
Heck, I know one herd- and it was a good herd, run by generally competent
people- who did that TWICE, two years in a row! I bought a couple of
springing 4 year old "heifers" from them... Good deal for me, awfully
expensive for them.

With the various protocols for bringing cows into heat, and things like
Kamar tailhead markers, tailhead paint and the other aids to finding cows
who are standing, healthy, well nourished cows are NOT hard to get
pregnant. There may be a rare one who doesn't conceive artificially who
will stick when run with a bull for her entire heat period, but they are
just that - rare. We compensate for that by breeding a valuable animal who
isn't getting pregnant every 12 hours from the first sign of heat until we
are sure she's completely out of heat. That compensates for the oddball who
ovulates very early- or very late. Just like using a bull does.

If you think you're going to save money using a bull, think again. Aside
from the possible insane costs of healing from severe injuries, a bull
isn't cheap to feed. You have to figure the original cost- either
purchasing a grown animal, or the cost of raising one to breeding age. Then
add in the cost of feed, and the fact that they are taking the place of a
cow. You can't count on one bull breeding more than 40 cows, according to
university research, and that's when they are mature. If you are trying for
seasonal calving, they can't handle that many. We are breeding as many as 6
cows a day right now, with our tiny (42 milking cows) seasonal herd. A bull
could NEVER do that. Quite often they will choose a favorite cow, and only
breed one out of however many are in heat that day.

Murphy's Law being what it is, maybe it's not surprising how many bulls go
lame right before peak breeding season- or right in the middle!

I know that some folks are successful using a bull, but they are
experienced, have taken into account everything I've said, and they are
likely not getting full advantage of their milking herd.

If you're determined to use a bull, this is the minimum I'd say is
necessary for health- yours and your herd's:

1. start with a healthy bull calf, out of top quality registered stock (so
you have a clue what is behind him). The dam should be in the top 10% of
the herd, the sire should be in the very top PTA, or LPI index.

2. get him COMPLETELY health tested and certified. For a calf, this means
blood testing for leukemia, Johnes, bluetongue, brucellosis, TB, and
possibly others. For a breeding age animal, it also means getting a semen
test done.

3. DO NOT purchase a bull that has been used for breeding on anyone else's
cows, unless you can get him tested for the various STD's. Pregnancy rates
stink when the bull is infecting cows with something that causes
infertility or early abortion!

4. Figure out where you are going to keep him, and set up facilities which
will allow you to handle him safely, and move cows in and out with the
least risk to everyone involved.

5. Get a ring in his nose by 6 months old, and HANDLE HIM with it. Do NOT
baby him or get him overly comfortable with people fiddling with him. But
break him to lead and make sure he learns EARLY that your space is not to
be invaded. It's best to always lead them with a staff, which keeps them
from crowding you. A poor second is to ALWAYS carry a sharp stick which you
can use to push them off you.

6. Last, be ready to replace him every single year. Some *may* stay
"gentle" longer... others may not be safe that long. A year is an average,
and unless you have professional facilities, by the time he's bred cows for
a year, he'll be over 2 years old and will have outgrown your facilities.
After that, you'll start compromising, because he'll be harder to handle.
And soon after THAT, you may be in big trouble.

I'm sure you're thinking I'm a spooky woman who is exaggerating. I wish!
Statistics showed for many years that the purebred dairy bull was the most
dangerous animal in North American (based on human injuries and deaths).

Also, please be aware that OSHA rules state that you can't have anyone
under the age of 16 (it might be 18) in a barn where a bull is kept. This
applies to hired help, of course, not family, but it's the law.
Now, dad blame it, Dun, how am I going to sell all these Angus bulls if you keep posting stuff like this? :D It's a good post, but AI is just not practical for many large operations with hundreds of wild cows spead out over hundreds of acres. We haven't used a bull in years, but may keep one in the spring for clean up. This article doesn't even mention the damage a bull can do in just being a bull. We don't keep our bulls around very long after test, but almost every gate on the place is bent from bulls "playing" with them. We "lost" a hay ring a while ago; couldn't for the life of us figure out where it went. When summer came and the ponds got low, we found it in a large pond. There's no doubt in my mind that some bulls got it moving and rolled it in there. Our 4-wheeler would have been in the pond if the wheels hadn't been turned enough that the bull just pushed it around in a circle. They're a pain, for sure, but most people can't do without them. And I like to look at them while they're here, waiting to be sold.
is all of that true? ive never heard stories of people getting attacked by their bulls. anyone here ever been hurt like that by a bull? when i bought my bull the guy said hes never had any problems with them they are like puppies. would it make a difference keeping them in a pen and letting them in a corral during the day?
TxCoUnTrYbOy":31yax50z said:
is all of that true? ive never heard stories of people getting attacked by their bulls. anyone here ever been hurt like that by a bull? when i bought my bull the guy said hes never had any problems with them they are like puppies. would it make a difference keeping them in a pen and letting them in a corral during the day?

TxCoUnTrYbOy":iarq2xlm said:
is all of that true? ive never heard stories of people getting attacked by their bulls. anyone here ever been hurt like that by a bull? when i bought my bull the guy said hes never had any problems with them they are like puppies. would it make a difference keeping them in a pen and letting them in a corral during the day?

I don't know of anyone being attacked by a bull but I know of 3 or 4 incidents where people have been hurt by a bull. Other cows know who the boss is and sometimes will run over you trying to get out of the bull way. I've seen some of our bulls knocking 5' X 6' rolls of hay around like they were bean bags. I know one man I work with whose father-in-law was killed while working his cattle, I'm not sure what he was doing, worming, weaning, etc. but there were two bulls in the same corral trying decide who was boss, he got knocked down, stepped on?, but was dead either way. You should always know where the bull is and try to know where he wants to be or go.

Yes, husband was attacked by our Jersey gomer bull. Luckily for us we had had him dehorned. Bull got him in the stomach, hubby grabbed on and went for a ride on the bulls head for about 100 yds, part of the time the bull had him on the ground pushing him. Looked like a rag doll friom where I was standing. Bull pushed him under the electric wire and quit.

Hubby was not hurt, put the bull in the corral and took him to the sale barn. Haven't had another Jersey.
Well, I have been a lurker for a while. But this topic inspired me to write my first post.

I have worked dairy and beef - small farms and pretty good sized ranches. I can throw a rope - albeit not as good as most - and I can usually tell when I get in over my head. Only problem is - sometimes I am not smart enough to git out while the gittins good!

TxCoUnTrYbOy - in response to your post - our local ag paper recently stated that every year in our part of the country at least two adult farm personnel are killed by a bull attack.

Recent personal experience with bulls:

Last summer - a neighbour approximately 12 miles from here was killed by a de-horned Holstein bull.

I was literally treed in a local pasture last September by a Limo bull that came from about 250 yards away - on the run. And yes, I know what the "look is". You can never forget it once you have seen it. Thank heavens for reasonable sized cedar trees - hard to climb under normal circumstances - but after circling the tree a couple of times with this guy hard after me I managed to get up with VERY LITTLE difficulty. He wanted me bad. Bull is dead.

Two years ago on a ranch in north west Alberta I watched a real nice Angus bull attempt a number on the owners wife. She had been in that small field hundereds of times with no trouble - she escaped this time by the literal skin of her teeth. Ducked under the tractor because she would not have had time to open the door and get in. He actually shook that MX 135 real hard. Bull is dead.

My immediate neighbour - Michelle - sold their bull for burger a couple of days ago - with a big red X on both sides. At the age of 4 1/2 years it was getting to the point no one could check the cows in the pasture unless they were in the truck. You should see the dent in the passenger door. This guy was a Simmental / Char cross. Bull is dead.

We raise Horned Herefords. We leave the ivory on the girls and train the horns down - but only if they stay on the farm. All the animals that leave are de-horned. Yup, we recognize the potentials - but we handle these gals in a decent chute set up and utilize a Hi Hog squeeze.

The bulls we keep on the property are quiet. We take the horns off of them. I do not trust any of them further than I can throw my truck. I firmly believe that given any moment one could take me or a family member. I am not truly afraid of them, but I am darned careful around them - and I always have an escape route in mind. If one looks at me funny he goes for meat with a red X on both sides.

Last year we had a bull from a recognized breeder on our place. He was so friendly it scared the bejeezuz out of me - every time we went into the pasture he would come over for his grain. The owners had hand fed him every day of his life. I immediately instituted a keep out of the field policy unless in a truck or tractor. He was removed the following week - and was I glad to see him go. Found another black bull to finish the job.

Bottom line - my own opinion - there is no safe bull and there is no breed that can truly completely guarantee a safe bull.

That being said, we use bulls - as do thousands of other farmers and ranchers. A.I. is a wonderful tool and we utilize it on a regular basis, but it cannot do the job when your cattle are running on 25,000 acres of grass. And A.I. does not do the job if you are a small operator that does not have a proper restraint capability.

So Frankie - I use Angus bulls to cover the A.I. portion of our red / white herd - that way we always know what "took" and what didn't. You'll always have a market for a good bull. Heck, if they ever open the border I might come your way for a look see.

Final notes: If you ship a bad bull - ship him for meat - mark him with a red X - both sides - and TELL THE AUCTIONEER - do not unload him onto another unsuspecting buyer. Be darned sure you are careful around his progeny - sometimes that attitude carries over.

Long post - but just my thoughts and experiences.

Best to all.
i was talking to my ag teacher and he told me that if you raise a bull and are gentle with it all the time, then all the bull will know is how to be gentle. i know if they are playing and nudging you, they are plenty strong to take you for a ride not knowing they are that strong, but a steer, heifer, cow, any cattle can do that to you.
Believe what you want to. Sure hope your Daddy is helping you with your Project. What will your Ag Teacher do when you are Laying in the Hospital.
Bulls Need to be Handled by People with Experience in Handling Them.

Good Luck
You Will Need It
You just always want to respect and never trust any bull.

Last week I helped put bulls out with some cows in the pasture. These were yearling, 2's and 3 year old angus bulls. We gathered and worked the bulls on horseback- and sorted out the 11 we needed to take that day. Now these are nice quiet bulls- they have been walked through and fed all winter. They loaded easily in the trailers and we hauled them to where they needed to be trailed about 5 miles.

They trailed good with their occasional moaning and groaning and fighting each other- until we came across the carcass (mostly just hide and bones) of a calf that had died last summer- then they went just nuts. Once they got a smell of that carcass they were on the fight with each other and with us on horseback. They pawed, rolled on, and fought over the carcass until their tongues were hanging out. It took 1/2 an hour and a couple of hairy encounters to push them past that dead calf. Once they got past the calf they settled back down and went good- perfect gentlemen- were even pretty easy to spread out amongst the ladies.

I've seen this many times before with a carcass or even just old bones- it sure shows how quickly a bulls behavior can change.
Ok... from the sound of the previous posts, we've been luckier than most with bulls. And by the way.. is that true about the "carcass" thing in the last post? I've never heard that before!

The first bull I "hand raised" was an angus.. he was gentle and quiet until suddenly one day sometime after his second birthday he "turned". We had to haul a portable generator out into the pasture and put up a hot wire fence in order to build a corral sturdy enough to catch him to haul. You should have seen the door on the Ford pickup.

After that we've never had another problem. As most stated, we do some AI, but are not set up to do everything. Our quietest bulls by far have always been the Brahmans.. but we select for disposition on Brahman cattle. Too easy to find a wild one, and a couple of those will make your whole herd quiet.

We've had a Limousin, a Beefmaster, two Brahmans, an Angus, a Maine Anjou, and two Simmentals, and never had a fence rider, a jumper, a fighter or one that we couldn't handle easily. The bull we currently have is a 4 year old Simmental that was shown extensively. He is absolutely dog gentle, and he loves to be scratched when he's out in the pasture. But when there is a cow bulling, or we're feeding, I don't mess with him. I think that is important when handling a bull.
My grandpa was just tellin the other day about how when he was still a meat inspector every once in a while when they Kosheur killed an animal would fall off the rack and be madder than heck. The smell of blood on the floor and landing on their head turned the gentlest of cows meaner than snot. The lifts would be stacked full of men trying to get out of the cows way. Thankfully nobody every got hurt but there were some supposedly close calls.
to turn your back on any type of cow, bull, steer, etc... is absolutely crazy!!! no matter if you think it is the most gentle thing in the world even a show animal i have a show heifer and i do not turn my back on her she is probably just playing but these animals are too big to play with she is just fine with the halter but her without it and in her pen eyes stay on her at all times but she is still my baby i know a char bull that he follows you every where barely able to feed cows he would come up and try to fight you and he would keep me on the other side of the fence until someone would come by with a truck to drive him away he is still around and isnt as bad but if it were my bull he would have went to town the first day he did that but that is how stubborn old timers are (no offense) since it "settled" down for now but it needs to go along with another char bull that even chased the old timer around the corral but he "settled" down too they both need to go all other char bulls are as gentle as can be but i never put too much trust in cattle even though i like cattle and like being around them
thats exactly what i mean. any cattle can hurt you or kill you, wether its a bull, steer, heifer, or cow. they dont know that they will hurt you if they are playing. seem like it just makes them mad when you turn your back to them. ive made the mistake of turning my back on my bull a few times, and it makes him mad. he never actually hurt me but hes still small. all i did was turn around and talk to someone outside the pen and he started pushing my leg. he loves attention, so i dont know if he was just trying to get my attention, scratch his head, or play. thankfully those horns are gone now so if he does do that it wont hurt as much. now i know that if im in the pen with him, i better be scratching him under the neck or giving him food. i know he may get rough when he starts producing testosterone, so ill be ready. all i can do is treat him with the most respect as i can right now and hope he treats me with the same respect.

btw, guest. that is the longest sentence ive ever read.
Okay, can't resist putting my two cents in. I agree wholeheartedly with those who say never trust a bull or cow. Some years ago I worked at the local auction market during fall run for a little extra pocket money, and yes, the animals are more wound up than at home due to the 'time is money' factor that auction barns operate on, but one man suffered a severe brain injury while working there when he got gated by a cow, and I ended up with three knee surgeries after getting tagged by a wee little 300 lb red angus steer - that was behind me, of all the rotten luck. One neighbour got caught at home flat footed by one of his bulls, and ended up with a broken pelvis...helluva way to start the summer what with field work and all ahead of him. A friend of mine was held pinned up against the fence by her quietest old cow one calving season... the animal had never shown the slightest sign of aggression before, she even used to scratch the old girl on the tailhead and had calved her out for about seven years - the cow just up and took her to the fence. Fortunately for her, the cow merely pinned her up against the fence and held her there for about fifteen minutes. Darn lucky, I figure.

Fact of this ramble is that cattle are cattle, not dogs or cats. Even a small 1000lb cow outweighs a human by a helluva lot. I know that it's easy to get complacent when you're walking through them every day, but it's an inescapable fact that a cow can cover ground just as quickly as a horse when they feel the need to.

Ever watch a cow interact with her new calf? It's not just licking, etc. When she wants to move that calf in a specific direction, she'll give it a bunt. And if she's moving another newborn away from her or her calf, sometimes she might knock it right off it's feet. And that's a baby member of her own species...not something that she regards as a predator. When the cows come up for feed, there's no gentle "excuse me, my dear". They'll bunt and ram each other for position at the feed. And when you bring in a new animal, they'll push and shove right through a four wire fence to settle the status quo.

Bulls are even more prone to aggressive behaviour, in my humble opinion, because now you're dealing with testosterone. And alot of it. Couple that with the mass of a mature breeding animal, and you've got yourself a genetically wired 2000lb plus bundle of TNT. The purpose of a bull is to breed cows...to pass on their genetics, and although a bull cannot lean over the fence and tell you that in english, you better believe that every bull worth his salt knows it. Ever stand by a bull pen in the spring when the sap is starting to rise? Those laid back boys that you fed all winter will be growling and a rumbling at each other. They'll have their pushing matches - I've still got some corral fence to mend from this spring that they went through like matchsticks. And these were the same bulls that laid beside each other all winter, sunning themselves and chewing their cud. Two years ago I was hauling a couple of two year old bulls out to the pasture. When I started to back up to the corrals to unload them, they saw the cattle there and went absolutely ballistic in the trailer. They fought so violently in the trailer that my one ton pickup couldn't back it up. I ended up (against all principles of livestock hauling that I had) having to do a donut out in the field to get them off balance enough to back up again. In that three minute scrap in the trailer, one tore his scurr off, and the other ripped a dew claw off his hind leg. And they had been together for a year. Letting them out of the trailer just gave those hormone junkies more room to battle, and having to pen them seperately damn near cost me my life. As luck would have it, I was able to fling myself over a gate just as they bashed up against it - there was bullcrap all down my jean leg they brushed agaisnt just as I got over.
Fortunately the bull that was in the pen I landed in wasn't in a fighting mood, and I made it back home that day pretty shook up. You see, I've handled hundreds of bulls at the sale barn, and had to scale the fence many a time to get clear (nothing is less of a joy than having to put an eighth bull into a pen designed to hold seven because some turkey calling pens figures you can cram an extra one in), but the closest I've ever come to being snuffed by them was on the home place.

TxCountryboy, I know you really like your bull, and that's a great thing. But please remember that his instincts to act as a herd protector and breeding animal extend eons past man's ability to domesticate. Bunting is merely establishing pecking order, and he's not going to get any smaller or slower as he matures. Carry a cane into the pen with you at all times. If you never have to use it on him, then that's wonderful, but if he starts giving you aggressive signals ( tucking his chin while rolling his eye at you; shaking his head in your direction; bunting or taking a run at you) then at least you'll be able to defend yourself to some degree. For what it's worth, when we're calving, I always carry a pitchfork when I'm checking cows or processing the new calves. It's paid off in spades to be the animal with the biggest sharpest horns. You don't have to be mean, just persistent. Let them touch it with their nose once, and it definately will adjust their attitude. And the fact that I'm here tonight typing this out to you and not pushing up daisies is the best testamony I can give you regarding self preservation while working with cattle.

Take good care of yourself, and work safe. I had to bury my little brother at the age of nineteen because he didn't, and I would like to see posts from you for many years to come.
OK, now that I've stirred this pot, here are some other thoughts.
Beef breed bulls genrally are not as bad as dairy bulls. The jury is still out on if it's genetic or environmental.
Maybe it's the herd interaction of being raised by a cow and learning proper manners. Hand raising maybe it makes you just part of the herd and the possible subject of being treated as a threat or toy, or even worse, an equal. I don't think anyone can say with 100% accuracy. The whole point is that a bull just isn't a trustworthy member of society. I also think they tend to be like a stud horse and bear grudges and await opportunities to retaliate for perceived wrongs.

ive been reading everyones posts, and i noticed that everyone had bulls together or near cows. what are they like then they are not with another bull and there is no female around? our FFA chapter has a small farm with barns on it. all the cattle are in one barn. there is my bull and several steers in it. right now there is a heifer but she is getting ready to leave this week. im a bit skeptical about letting him in the corral with the steers though. but do they behave differently with no females around? and if they have no females to......um......relieve themselves with?
Three years ago I bought a 4 year old hereford bull. When I brought him home, he was gentle as a lamb. After three months of posing and bellering across the fence at the neighbors angus, you couldn't go anywhere near him. My brother tried to herd him, thinking he was the same lapdog he was when we picked him up. My brother got over the fence, barely.
That bull went down the road shortly after. That same year , he bought a tarentaise bull that came after me while we were picking him up. That would have been a deal breaker for me, but we brought him home anyway. Its chased my brother twice since and to answer your question, he is no better in the off season then he is when he's out with the cows. The fellow that sold him that bull, had another bull that took after a guy in a barn. He survived but he now walks with a cane and they think that's about as good as he's going to get. I never turn my back on any bull. They can be good one day and crazy the next.
Remember the old saying "walk softly and carry a BIG stick". I think that rule works for bulls. I check my cows every evening, usually get out of truck and walk amongst them. always carry a big stick. My bulls know if they get within 10 or 12 ft of me I,m comming after them.
It's their pasture and their girls and I don't try to invade their space, but they know not to invade my space either. I'm scared of them but they just think I'm mean and crazy. Works so far...If i quit posting you will know it quit working.

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