Cows or Bull?

Liberty Ranch 2 2048x1320

Some of you appear to have problems understanding the whole “dairy” thing, I can help.

Let’s start with the basics. The cow is the female, the bull is the male. Cow = female, bull =male. Don’t confuse yourself with the male and female ends of electrical cords or hoses, which will only make things worse. I’m walking a fine line between a noble effort at educating the public or violating State Dairy Obscenity Laws.

Many people claim they already know the cow-bull thing. They once took a community college biology class so they like to impress everyone with their anatomical knowledge. This is fine if it is in the confines of a classroom with slides and graphs. But please! Please! Please, even if you have their help don’t climb into your local dairy farm’s corrals, start lifting tails, and start poking and prodding around. It will not end well.

Fortunately, you can become quite proficient at sorting the cows from the bulls while observing from a safe distance while enjoying a cool glass of milk if you know what to look for.

Allow me to elaborate.

The cow, the female, is a creature who likes routine. This is because she has several jobs to do each day. She has to go to the barn to be milked multiple times each day, she needs to line up to eat multiple times each day, find a place to rest, and stand around with several other females in the middle of the corral for no reason at all.

The bull, the male, can’t even spell routine. The fact is, the bull only cares about two things: 1. When do I eat? and 2. Is anybody in heat?

Thus, the bull at milking time is standing at the back of the corral usually trying to get a cow to stay with him. But the cow, concerned with routine, will tell the bull to “cool his jets” and she will be right back, which of course she won’t because after milking it will be time to eat. The bull will obediently wait until hunger kicks in and he forgets why he is standing in the back of the corral after the feed truck has gone by. Meanwhile, the cow returns to the back of the corral where she discovers the bull has left to go eat. She will then spurn him for the next 3 weeks. The female can be vicious.

The cow is the quiet one. She will spend hours, if not days, quietly eating, drinking and lying down. She wants everyone to know what she wants by telekinesis. A common trait of the female type. (A contentious subject of much debate.) Cows can frequently be heard mooing is when they are herded into a holding pen and a cow cuts in front of another cow. I don’t speak “Moo” but it seems to be a low murmur referencing someone’s big hips, how long their tail is, or their high opinion of themselves.

The bull is noisy. Upon completing one of his two primary concerns, he will be walking the fence with his head held high making all kinds of noise. He will paw at the dirt, jump around until hunger kicks in, and then he looks impatiently for the feed truck.

The cow is very concerned about her calf. They are the perfect subject for many maternal pictures. After calving she tends to stay near her calf, licking the calf which is adorable but only for four-legged creatures. Sometimes the calf will escape from the calving pen where it is held for a day. The cow goes to the fence and makes as much noise as she possibly can to get the lost calf back.

If a calf gets lost, the bull can be found either at the water trough or at the feed bunk impatiently looking for the feed truck.

Cows are not as welcoming as the bull. If a new young heifer (a young female which all cows use to be) is introduced to a corral of cows she is in for a rough time. Social order is very important in the dairy corral. The older cows will shun the new one forcing her to sleep on the edge of the straw pad or the freestall furthest from the barn fan. They will also step on her or blast their head into her ribs (cows don’t have elbows) just to let her know where she belongs in line.

The bull, on the other hand, is a one-bovine welcome wagon. He immediately goes over to greet his new corral mate by sniffing and rubbing. The heifer, a little overwhelmed by his attention will start walking/running around the corral with the bull close behind. The cows will stand clear, chewing their cud, amused by watching the old bull try to keep up with the young heifer. You can almost see a smirk on the face of the usually stoic cows. Why does this normally proud animal behave this way? Reread the two main concerns of the bull.

Certainly there are other differentiating traits of Cows and Bulls such as; who slurps at the water trough, who sorts through their feed, and who jumps at the chance to go to the saleyard. All of these subtle differences are helpful in sorting cows and bulls.

You can now identify bulls and cows from a safe distance and impress your community college friends and not get your Crocs dirty.

However, it is important to keep this in mind: None of these rules apply to other male-female types.

Never mind what my wife says.

John W. Wright

Retired from a 41-year career of growing and operating his own dairy near Wendell, Idaho, John W. now serves as the University of Idaho’s CAFE Research Dairy as the project manager.


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