Working with cows can be fun, but sometimes it can also be dangerous and frustrating. In order to handle your cows with ease and confidence, you should learn about how cattle see the world. While cows perceive the world with all five of their senses, they rely greatly on their vision, especially when they are nervous.
Panoramic Horizontal Vision, but with Limitations
While humans can only see 170 degrees, cows can see 300 degrees. They only have a small blind spot directly behind them. However, cattle have very poor depth perception, and they can only see 60 degrees of vertical vision. Cows must lower their heads to look down at something. Cows also don't focus very quickly, and they perceive contrasts differently from humans.
That's a lot of facts, but what do they mean for the cattle handler? First, because of the blind spot, you must be very careful when approaching the rear of a cow. A startled cow can kick at something or someone who is lingering in her blind spot. Teach your kids to never approach a cow from the rear. Even a tame, gentle cow will kick when surprised.
Since contrasts look different to cows, something as innocent as a shadow can look like an enormous hole in the ground. Try to work your cows at a time of day when harsh shadows are minimized. If you can't do that, go slowly, so the cow can figure out that things are not really as they appear to her.
A cow's slow visual focus and the small vertical field of vision mean that cows need to be handled calmly and slowly. Since cows must lift their heads to look at something, they can't see their feet when they look up. Because of this, things like stepping up into a trailer befuddle cows. You can help them figure out what to do by lifting their feet for them or creating ramps.
Cows Move SLOWLY
Slow focusing means that it takes time for cows to figure out exactly what they are looking at. Any time you are doing something different with your cows, take it easy and let the cow figure things out. Don't make quick, sudden movements because your cow will startle and panic. A panicked cow takes quite a while to settle down, so you are better off just relaxing and working at the cow's own pace.
When a cow is nervous or frightened, they rely on vision more than any of their other senses. This is why the sides of your cow-handling chute should be solid. If the cow can see through slats, she will be distracted and nervous from activity on the outside of the pen.
External Changes Confuse Cows
Cows also recognize people from the shape and color of their clothing. My cow often confuses my daughter and I when we wear the same jacket in the winter. Some cows will act strange if you wear an unusual coat or don't wear the hat that you usually wear. If your milk cow is acting crazy, ask yourself if you are dressed differently from normal. If so, your cow is reacting like she would if a total stranger came to try to handle her.
When you know how your cow sees things, you will be able to work within your cow's comfort zone and keep her calmer. Calm cows mean that everything that you try to do with them will be much simpler. Cows are lovely animals, but they can act crazy when they don't understand what is going on. By respecting the limitations of their vision, you can make things easy for your cow to do what you ask.