All cattle should be allowed to express natural behaviours. Behaviour refers to the way that an animal acts. An important type of behaviour that an animal expresses are those that are instinctive (what they would typically do in the wild). Enough space, proper shelter and housing, as well as company of the animal's own kind, encourages the expression of natural behaviours.
This law is called the Animal Welfare Act. The Animal Welfare Act outlines how people must take care of and act towards animals in New Zealand. The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), the Police and SPCA work together to make sure people in New Zealand follow these laws.
Under the Animal Welfare Act, all animal guardians (owners) are responsible for making sure the welfare needs of animals in their care are met. Learning about the Five Domains helps us to understand these welfare needs and how we can make sure we provide these. One of the Five Domains is Behaviour. In this section you will learn about this domain and how you can make sure your cattle receive the exercise and enrichment they need to express their natural behaviours.
One of the most important natural behaviours for cattle is being able to graze. Grazing is a method of feeding in which a herbivore feeds on plants such as grasses. Cattle can spend up to nine hours a day grazing. If you decide to have cattle, it is very important you allow them to graze.
You will need to have enough space to keep your cattle comfortable so that they do not feel confined, and so that there is enough pasture to keep them busy grazing on. You will need to make sure that your pasture is well looked after - an adult may be able to help you with that. You can read more about this in our Nutrition section.
Another reason it is so important for cattle to graze is because it is part of the their digestive process. We talked earlier about the special compartments in cattle stomachs, which make them ruminants. As cattle are ruminants, they require time to graze on their food, regurgitate, swallow their food, regurgitate and ruminate (or chew) on it some more.
This allows your cattle to extract all the nutrients possible from the grass. If your cattle do not get the opportunity to graze, they can become depressed, ill, and develop problem behaviours. Remember, not being able to graze is not normal or natural for cattle.
Cattle are naturally herded animals and are very social. This means it is normal for cattle to want to be in groups (herds). Cattle won’t feel safe if they are alone/isolated and they will try to get into an environment with other cattle. Isolation isn’t natural for cattle, so they should always be able to see and interact with at least one or two other cattle.
Cattle can become panicked or depressed when they are on their own, so it is very important that they have other cattle for company. In order to make sure your cattle can express their natural behaviours, you should always have more than one compatible cattle friend for them. This will help your cattle feel safe and happy.
Cattle enjoy grooming themselves and other cattle (social grooming). This helps them form bonds with each other, especially between cows and their calves. These behaviours are all very important for your cattle and they will want the company of other cattle so they can participate in these natural activities.
Interesting fact – a dairy cow can produce over 50kg of saliva in one day!
An interesting fact about cattle is that they can lie down for up to 14 hours a day. During this time though, they will only sleep for short periods at a time. Cattle lie down for many different reasons; time to digest food (ruminate) in a safe and quiet place, helps rest their hooves, sleeping, when they calve (give birth), or when sick or injured.
Therefore, cattle are standing and lying regularly throughout the day, depending on many different things. Another thing to note is the way that cattle lie down, as they generally bend onto their front knees to drop down to the ground – so make sure if using a bedding inside area, that the area of bedding is comfortable enough for them to drop down to their knees (using comfortable matting is good).
Cattle are very intelligent animals and they do well when their minds are stimulated. Letting cattle use their minds to learn new things is part of helping them to express their natural behaviours.
Many people use clicker training to train their dogs. Did you know you can use clicker training for cattle too? Cattle have successfully been trained to learn a variety of tasks and commands through clicker training. In fact, cattle have learnt to distinguish between shapes and colours, and have also learnt many cool tricks when they have been trained.
You can find clicker training guides at your local library or watch instructional videos online of how to kindly and properly train an animal using a clicker.
By training your cattle, you are both stimulating their mind and bonding with them. To do this, you need to spend good quality time with your cattle, creating positive interactions.
All animals should be given enrichment – enrichment is a way of improving the lives of your animals by giving them interesting, fun and challenging things to do.
Enriching their lives with other herd mates is another way to ensure your cattle are happy and healthy. Having the best, well-managed pasture is also the best situation you can have for your cattle. Enrichment is especially important if your pasture or grass area isn’t the very best.
Here are some enrichment ideas for your cattle which will keep them busy and stop them from being bored or frustrated:
Cattle are smart and social animals. They experience a variety of emotions and have a rich range of communication that includes moos, grunts, bellows, cries, as well as non-verbal signals such as their ear, head, and tail positions, even the whites of their eyes can communicate if they are feeling fearful or anxious.
Learning and understanding what cattle are telling you with their body can help you understand how they are feeling, so that you can respond in safe and positive ways.
If you're ever concerned about the behaviour of your cattle, always talk to an adult and ask them to speak to your vet.
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