Tag Archive for cattle

An Easy Trick To Help Pick A Calm Cow

Selecting young cattle for future breeding is as much an art as it is a science. It’s a guessing game in regards to future temperament, productivity, milking ability and mothering. Temperament in cows is an important trait to keep in mind especially with a small herd.
Temperament in many animals is hereditary.

Good sound feet, sturdy legs, a nice straight top line and a feminine appearance are all important considerations when selecting foundation breeding stock. And all things being equal I also select cattle by low head whorls.

A Good Conformation in a Beef Type Heifer

A Good Conformation in a Beef Type Heifer

Some cows are just born crazy. They have a wild streak and there’s not much to be done about it. Crazy cattle are harder to handle and can end up hurting themselves or you. Rowdy cattle will run into walls and try to jump fences and holding pens trying to get away from people. I call it “crashing”. Unmanageable cattle can be dangerous in both a squeeze chute and in an open pasture. Trust me life is too short to put up with crazy cows.

Chasing A Heifer In The Farm Yard

Chasing A Heifer In The Farm Yard

When buying a group of cattle or even just a single animal, I always judge temperament by using three different assessments.
The first is I watch to see how the animal or the group of animals reacts to a stranger (me) in a standing open lot. Next I watch to see whether or not the animal crashes during handling or with a little pressure to move. Lastly I also note the position of the head whorl on the animal .

The first two behavior tests are obvious. But judging cattle temperament by a head whorl is maybe not so obvious.

A facial head whorl is where the hair on a cow or horse’s face meets. Head whorls are simply cowlicks on the face.
Generally the lower the whorl on the face, the less high-strung and calmer the animal will be. The whorl should be at or just above eye level on the face. It is best to avoid very high whorls and especially very uneven whorls high on the face.

Low Head Whorl In A Crossbred Heifer

A Low Head Whorl In A Crossbred Heifer

The example above is a crossbred Kerry heifer with a very low facial head whorl. Notice that the whorl is just below eye level. This heifer was usually calm.
Selection by head whorls is not fool-proof, but when combined with the other two factors, it can help pick good heifers out of a big lot.

Cattle Cooling Tank

The 50 gallon water tank in the heifer pasture never stays clean. That’s because Holly insists on standing in it. She’s positively incorrigible.

Black Cattle

Holly Standing In Her Water Tank

No sooner is the water tank sprayed out, cleaned and refilled – then she immediately hops back in.

Black cattle and cattle with a greater muscle mass seem to be more sensitive to heat and humidity. Standing in water helps cattle to cool off.
Many dairy farms and beef operations have earthen or cement cooling ponds to help keep their cattle more comfortable in hot weather.

Kerry Cattle

My husband and I originally bought Kerry cattle for an integrated dairy production project that involved two different family farms. The plan was that our neighbors would keep them and milk them along with their dairy cows on their farm, while my husband and I would raise the heifers and feed out the steers for beef on our farm.

The plan didn’t work because the Kerries weren’t earning their keep due to low milk production. The Kerries were producing less than 1 ½  gallons of milk a day. Lately I have been trying to figure out what practical place Kerry cows might have in 21st century America.

Kerry cattle are an extremely rare heritage breed of dairy cattle native to Ireland.
They are long-lived and have genetics that are unique and are unlike that of modern U.S. dairy cattle. Kerry cows most often produce milk with A2 type of β-casein which is a very desirable trait in some milking herds.The A1/A2 controversy has become a topic of interest and specialty marketing in the dairy industry and in alternative health circles.

Kerry Cow

A Kerry Cow

When a Kerry bull is crossed onto a Holstein cow or heifer the resulting offspring is solid black. Due to that fact alone the bull calves command higher prices at the sale barn. With our herd we’ve noticed a distinct hardiness and liveliness in any Kerry cross calf.
Kerry bulls are my service choice for easy trouble free calving for a first time heifer. I have found the most successful Kerry crosses so far to have been Kerry X Jersey; Kerry X Holstein and my favorite has been Kerry X Simmental.
Kerry cows like their cousins Dexters,  are low milk producers compared to modern dairy breeds. But they are easy keepers, do quite well on pasture and can make a good family cow for a small family if you can find one.

Kerry Cattle

Kerry Cattle Are Friendly If Handled Properly

The Good

  • Kerry cattle are small but are not dwarfs.They are not nearly as small as many Dexters. The larger size is an advantage for those who do not have a reliable means to sell direct to consumers and must sell feeders or finished beef through traditional livestock markets.
  • Excellent feed efficiency. Kerry Cattle eat about 25%-30% as much feed as a Holstein and maybe 50% -70% as much feed as a modern commercial Angus.
  • Kerry cattle are tame and easily managed if handled right.
  • In crossing with other breeds, the sold black color is very dominant. Black cattle can bring a premium in traditional livestock markets of 12%-30% over other colors of cattle.
  • Extreme longevity. There are verified instances of 20 year old Kerry cows having calves
  • Their primitive DNA may provide some unique disease immunity. There was initial research in Britain that no Dexter or Kerry cow was ever slaughtered for BSE. But this was never fully researched.
  • Beef flavor was traditionally well regarded. I find it to be a much better flavor than Dexter beef but not quite as good as Hereford of Angus. If slaughter at 24 months the meat is fine grained and slightly marbled.
  • Small birth weights. A smaller calf means less calving assistance by the herdsman in order for a calf to be born.
  • High rates of A2 beta casein. A2 beta casein is a source of controversy at present in some dairy circles. Most diary cattle in the US do not carry the gene for A2 beta casein.
  • Because of their low milk production Kerry cattle, like Dexters, might have a place as a family cow on the right homestead.
  • Kerry cattle have only a very distant relationship to other breeds of cattle. This maximizes the advantage of heterosis in crossing with more mainstream breeds.

The Bad

  • Most Kerry cattle in North American today come from one single importation from Ireland to Canada. The gene pool in North America is very limited. All Kerry cattle in North America are closely related.
  • From at least 1919 onward, the majority of Kerry breeders in Ireland and England were aristocrats. The landed gentry kept Kerries as prestigious estate cows. Kerry cattle have not really been bred for milk production or improvement for at least 90 years. This is a serious problem today, as most North American Kerry cattle breeders are keeping them for their rarity or heritage, and not for milk production.
  • Our direct experience with milk production was an abysmal 12 pounds per day (that’s less than two gallons a day) over a 180 day lactation. Modern dairy cows have a lactation of at least 305 days. Even for many home dairies, or people keeping a single family cow, this is just not enough milk. It is milk enough for a calf and maybe a half gallon a day for the table or kitchen. Certainly not enough milk to make getting pooped on and occasionally kicked worthwhile.
  • Kerry cattle are a genetic dead end. There is no consistency of owner expectations about the future niche of these cows.
  • There is not enough modern data on crossbred performance. Crossbred performance is the heart of modern day beef production and becoming common in dairy cattle breeding. Many of the 100 year old reports of crossbreeding Kerry outcomes are useless. This is because every other breed of cattle crossed onto a Kerry has changed since then.

A Crossbred Kerry Heifer

Horns on Cattle

The first or second thing most farm visitors notice about our older Kerry cows are their horns.
It’s understandable.
Horns were what I initially noticed about Kerry cattle the first time I saw them too. From a farmer’s point of view horns in livestock can be a source of trouble. Horned cattle are more dangerous to handle and are subject to accidents.

Kerry Cow

Olga Is A Kerry Cow

When we bought our first Kerry cows a few years ago they already had large horns. For the most part our cows are good girls and don’t misbehave too badly or get into trouble with their horns. However, we made the decision early on in our Kerry breeding program to de-horn all younger heifers and steers that were born on this farm. It makes life easier for both humans and cattle.

The presence of horns in cattle is the result of genetics. Cattle that lack certain genes are naturally hornless and are known as “polled”.  Some breeds of cattle like the Angus and Galloway are always polled (hornless).
The gene for polling is a dominant gene in cattle.

Hereford Cow

Polled Hereford Cow With Her Calf

Here in western Pennsylvania, old-timers use to refer to a naturally polled cow as a “Muley Cow”. I always wondered why they were called that and then I learned about the naturally polled Moiled Cattle that once roamed Northern Ireland.  Moiled and Muley sound a lot alike and the word may have survived from the first Scots Irish settlers in this area.

Before we bought our first Kerry cows the previous owner had allowed a commercial cross bred Simmental/Angus bull to breed two of them. The resulting offspring were born naturally polled.

Polled Calf

A Naturally Polled Kerry Crossbred Calf

Horns once served cattle as a defense mechanism and will discourage casual predators. Horns can also help cattle that spend a lot of time in semi-wild places. Their horns can be used to knock over young trees and brush for food.

I do find it curious that a dominant genetic factor which would make cattle less able to defend themselves in the wild (and make bulls less able to beat rivals to build a harem) would be dominant.

In situations where cattle are managed inside buildings and yards horns can be bad news. Horns can cause puncture wounds on other cows and to humans; and horns can catch on pipelines, gates and feeders. And a broken horn on an adult animal can be a real bloody mess.

But horns do have useful commercial purposes. Before plastics, horns were used for buttons, cups, powder horns and other useful items. Once removed from a slaughtered cow horn material can even be heated and shaped. Horns are especially useful in working oxen as the horns keep them from backing out of a yoke.

Regardless of the gene expression, horns in cattle remain both a source of expense and controversy.
In the dairy cattle world all mainstream dairy breeds still have horn genetics.
Horns cost the dairyman time and trouble to remove. With cattle de-horning should be done as early as possible in a young bull or heifer’s life to avoid too much unnecessary pain and the possibly of complications. But de-horning also must be done with regard to weather conditions.  Because de-horning done improperly can result in sinus infections and fly strike that can harm the newly de-horned animal.

Cutting Horns

Horns Are Cut Off

Polled dairy genetics are now available but most dairymen have not used them. Some farmers are concerned that breeding for a single characteristic such as polling could result in some other valuable genetic trait being lost.


Fly Control in Pastured Cattle

Because cattle produce so much manure fly populations can be hard to manage and control even when cattle are kept in open pasture and not confined.

Heifer On Pasture

Flora Walking Down The Grassy Lane

Here in western Pennsylvania summertime means fly season for folks who raise cattle. Heavy fly infestations in cattle can be a real animal welfare headache. That’s because flies bite, suck blood; spread disease and cause agitation and a general misery both in cattle and humans alike.

In this part of the US, there are two major types of flies that trouble cattle: face flies and horn flies. If you are new to keeping a family cow or plan on keeping cattle in the future it is a good idea to learn the difference.

Face flies look at lot like big house flies. They tend to cover large areas of the face and like to feed on the eye, nose and mouth secretions that cattle produce.

Fly Control Is Needed

Josie With Summer Face Flies

Face flies transmit the bacteria Moraxella bovis, which is the primary cause of bovine pinkeye. Pinkeye is an extremely contagious inflammation of the cornea and conjunctiva of cattle and can result in blindness if not treated promptly.

Horn flies are about half the size of house flies and have pointier looking wings.
And like the name suggests they prefer to gather in a large mass around the horns or poll of cattle. But horn flies don’t just stop with the head. They are blood suckers and congregate wherever they can’t easily be rubbed or brushed off.

Horn Flies

Horn Flies On Cattle

Horn flies like to stay on cattle continuously and will often face directly downward towards the ground while they cling to cattle. The back and shoulders of calves and full grown cows are all easy targets for horn flies. During rainy weather they will move to the belly and throat of cattle for shelter from the rain.


There are a few different types of products and delivery systems that aid in the control of flies on cattle. The type of fly control that a producer or small holder will choose depends upon budget, herd size, management system and personal preference.


A daily insecticide spray on is a fairy effective control measure if you have only a few cows and if you handle them every day. It’s the type of fly control that we use and it will give about a half to a full day’s protection.


A pour on fly repellant is a good choice for both dairy and beef cattle and can last up to 4 weeks. I keep bugging my husband to get some so we can quit with the daily spray.


Dust bags and oil rubs are very convenient and can be located between two fence posts or a gate where cattle will have to walk every day. Dust bags are filled with powdered insecticide that gets applied like bath powder on bovine heads, backs and necks when they walk underneath it.
Oil rubs are extremely effective and look and act a lot like the big horizontal wiper mops that you see in automatic car washes. Instead of a car passing through and being dosed with soap and water, and cow passes through and gets dosed with insecticide.


Insecticide ear tags are an effective but expensive form of fly control. Best results are obtained if tags are set in both ears and not too soon in fly season. Both caution and rubber gloves must be used when applying insecticide ear tags and flies can develop a resistance after a couple of years of use.


The way a feed or mineral additive works is that insecticide in the feed or mineral block is eaten by the cattle and then passed through the digestive tract and into the manure.
The insecticide reduces the number of flies emerging from the manure and helps to keep fly populations under control.

Taming Hattie

I have been spending a few moments every afternoon taming our new heifer.
Both my husband and I strongly believe that farm animals should be trained to come to the bucket and tolerate handling by humans.

Young Heifer


Even beef cattle can be tamed up some, and it’s an especially good idea to tame up a future brood cow.
Sometimes a newly freshen cow will become over protective of her new calf and will charge humans.
A new mother can be dangerous if she takes a notion to.

I think it is worth the time and trouble to tame all farm animals, large and small. It’s especially valuable should the animal ever become sick, need to be moved or gets out of the fence.
For most of our animals all I have to do is shake a bucket full of feed – and they come a running.
It makes life so much easier.
Our new heifer has been kept in a pen alone for the last 2 weeks so she can become accustomed to us, our farm routine, and so we can make sure that she has no disease that could spread to our other animals. It is also important that she be isolated so she becomes lonely.
A lonely animal makes the taming easier. In just the last few days the new heifer has decided that she is lonesome. She took to nosing the dog and then licking him. Animals often make up to other animals first.
Now she is willing to stand to be petted on the nose and eat hay from my hand. I finally named her “Hattie” this afternoon.