In the vernacular of a college student, animals of the bovine persuasion are chill. Dairy breeds (Holstein and Jersey, for example) and beef breeds (Hereford and Angus) differ in general disposition; the former tend to be more docile while the latter can be anything but. Let’s expand on this relationship between breed class and disposition. Think back to that interminable statistics class you took in high school. Picture a normal distribution. Now, how about standard deviation? Recall that 68% of normally distributed measures fall within one standard deviation of the mean … 95% of measures fall within 2 standard deviations … and a bit more than 99% of values fall within 3 standard deviations of the mean. If the dispositions of bovine breeds may be thought of as normally distributed, then dairy breeds fall within one standard deviation of the mean while beef breeds fall within three. That is to say, the behavior of dairy breeds is fairly uniform while that of individuals belonging to one or another beef breed may be variable. Consider why this might be? Dairy breeds are the result of selection for docile and submissive behaviors. Whether they are milked in a free stall operation or paraded through a milking parlor, dairy cows need to be handled twice, sometimes three times, each day and they need to be willing to participate in routine; they need to be flexible and willing to cooperate. Beef animals, on the other hand, are traditionally grown on pasture. Under these conditions, selection for cooperative or compliant behaviors is minimal.
Having said all of this let us return to my earlier statement that bovines are relaxed. If you leave a Holstein alone, or walk among a number of them, they often do not even take notice. If you approach one and hold out a hand – it’ll most likely investigate with a sniff and perhaps a lick. When an Angus gets wind of the fact that you are even contemplating walk up to it – it’ll move in a direction calculated to maximize the distance between you and it. The animal won’t bolt – it’ll just do whatever is required to keep its distance. That is not to say that Angus and Herefords cannot be friendly, they certainly can be. Like most all species of livestock, bovines are creatures of habit. They tend to be inquisitive if not too bright. They remember and can hold grudges, but are also capable of forgiving and forgetting. Bovines take responsibility seriously; they are good mothers and defend their calves aggressively. Bulls are, simply put, guys; competitive, stubborn, reactive, and very much influenced by females.
If a dairy cow were to transmogrified into human form the result might remind you of Edith Bunker of All in the Family. A similarly transmogrified beef steer might remind you of Kramer from the Seinfeld series.
Each of the images below is linked to earlier posts in this continuing series.