You don\'t have to be around cows very long to figure out that they are very social creatures with distinct personalities and a rigid hierarchy. This social system can influence many aspects of the cow\'s life.
Scientists who study such things have learned that cows have a social ranking system that is largely dependent on the weight and age of the cow. Cows who are younger and smaller will be at the bottom of the pecking order, and cows that are bigger and older will be at the top. As a cow ages, her peak of \"social standing\" is around nine years. After this point, she usually begins losing her competitive edge and another younger, stronger cow rises above her.
When you introduce a new cow to the herd, or reintroduce a cow that has been away for awhile, the cows will start fighting to establish rank. Usually they butt one another head to head. After awhile, they learn which one is stronger, and the less dominant cow will \"learn her place\" in the herd dynamics. After several days, the new cow will know where she stands in they social ranking of the herd and the fighting should subside.
Dominance is quite visible when you put out feed for cows. The more dominant cows will have the best of everything. They will go for the most grain, the best hay, and first turn at the water trough. As a farmer, you must keep dominance in mind when you are feeding in the winter. Be sure that you put out enough hay feeders so that even the smaller, less dominant cows get a space and can eat enough hay to stay warm and healthy.
Knowing which cow is dominant and which cow is subordinate can make your life as a farmer easier. The dominant cow, or \"Boss\" cow will almost always lead the way to anything new. If you can get the boss cow to enter a closed pen, move to the next field, or do something else new, the other cows will be more likely to follow along behind her.
If you want to confuse a cow, try doing something nice to a less dominant cow. The lower ranked cow will not know what to make of it, and the boss cow will be terribly offended and bewildered. Most of the time, boss cows are the first for any good thing.
When dealing with an outbreak of mastitis not too long ago, I was forced to milk my boss cow last. Both \"Old Bossy\" and the less-dominant, Lady, struggled with this switch. I had to think of a way to keep Bossy in check so she was not being a nuisance while I milked her herd mate first. We were all happier when the mastitis cleared and I could once again work within the natural herd social structure.
Study your cows to determine which cows are dominant and which cows are subordinate. When you know this information, you will be able to handle your cows more easily by taking advantage their social ranking.