An Amazing Creature

Working with cows everyday, I am often struck with amazement at their abilities and instincts. I’d like to share some of these interesting observations.

Sense of Smell – Some of you may not know how often a cow uses her sense of smell. During calving she is able to smell her amniotic fluid, even in a calving ground where hundreds of cows calve. As co-blogger Erika pointed out in ‘Baby’s First Toboggan Ride’, this is why it can sometimes be a pain to move the cow and/or calf. The cow is drawn back to the place where she birthed her calf and dropped her fluid. It is easier to move the cow when she has the scent of the newborn calf to follow. It can be a REAL bear to try and move a cow after her fluid has broken, but the calf is not born yet.
A cow will also use her sense of smell to help her navigate. Last summer it caught my attention when a cow ‘smelt’ her way to the other cows. We were clearing out a pasture and had moved a large group of cows and calves out. We realized we had missed some and went back to get them. I noticed as a cow continually smelt the ground, following the trail of the others and her calf who had been moved out earlier. I would expect this from a dog, but found it very interesting that a cow also uses their sense of smell! We play a game of hide and seek with our cows in the summer when we put salt out on our 50,000 acres of range land. Salt comes in a 50 pound block, which they lick. Each cow will lick through about 10 pounds of salt a year. In this game, we have never had a block that a cow hasn’t found and licked; a very good sense of smell!

Whereabouts – I find it incredible how a cow can consistently recocgnize her own calf and keep track of it’s whereabouts! I guess this must go back to smell! Tonight we were coming up our driveway and a little calf was sleeping in a ditch on the wrong side of the fence. My husband got the baby up and started to bring it up out of the ditch and get it to the correct place. From way up in the field about 200 meter away, the mama came bawling and running down toward us. Even though she could not even see the calf yet, as it was behind a steep bank, she knew we were ‘touching’ her baby! Often a mom will ‘stash’ her newborn baby somewhere safe. It’s like she says, “You go to sleep right here. Do not move. I will come back to get you!” Isn’t it amazing that a cow, in the dark, from a long ways away, can know it is her baby?

Daughters, Mothers, Grandmothers – It is very interesting over the course of the calving season to look at the patterns of family members and their calving. Often daughters, mothers, and grandmothers will calve within days of each other. On our ranch we can recognize this because of the way we tag. In this picture there are 3 tags in the middle. The cow #13U, her daughter and her granddaughter all had their babies on the same day. I am not sure why it is. Possibly because of the way their cycles fall in the same pattern or time frame. It happens very often and I think it is interesting!
~Erika Fossen~


2 thoughts on “An Amazing Creature

  1. Lavinia Ross says:

    Yes, they are amazing creatures. The calving pattern is interesting.

  2. m balisky says:

    It is amazing, Erika. When Lexi first moved here, I was amazed @ what she knew about cattle. She took me on the quad to the pasture, then she called the cattle and they came to her from all over the quarter out of the willows. They knew her voice and trusted her. People have no idea how skilled cattlemen are and how cattle respond. Now I am amazed @ what you know and have learned working w/ the cattle. It’s probably true of all animals, we just don’t know them. Truly amazing, thank you for the blog.

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