Youth Livestock Safety - 2 - Dairy Safety: Behavior Basics

Dairy Safety Lesson 2: Behavior Basics: Getting to Know Your Dairy Show Animal

It’s a good idea for everyone who shows dairy animals to have a basic understanding of animal behavior, particularly the behavior patterns of cattle.

Animal behavior is determined by two factors: genetics and experience. Dairy animals that are treated gently and quietly will have smaller flight zones and be easier to handle than animals that have been treated roughly.

Get to know your project animal. One that “spooks” easily must be handled differently than one that adapts more readily to changes. Handling differently means you should make changes slowly, watch your dairy show animal closely when you change locations, and adjust handling methods as necessary.

Your dairy show animal may be calm at home in familiar surroundings, but may become agitated when taken to a different location with new and strange sounds, such as the county fairgrounds where there may be carnival game noise, children crying screaming, or balloons popping. Cattle are sensitive to high-pitched noises and are easiest to handle when noise levels are low. Typically noise levels will not be low at a dairy show or fair.

Understanding how your dairy show animal might act in different situations will help make livestock shows safer for everyone – for exhibitors as well as the people who are watching.

Do your best to make your dairy show animal’s first experience in different surroundings a positive one. For example, have a feed pan waiting when you move it to a new pen.

All cattle have wide-angle vision. This means that it can see behind itself without turning its head, so it may react to something that we don’t think it can see. Cattle also tend to shy away from shadows, puddles, and other walking surface changes. Cattle prefer to move from a darker area to a lighter area. Keep this in mind when moving your dairy show animal from outside into a darker arena. It may resist at first. Be patient and allow it to adjust.

Fear causes animals to run away. Animals can develop permanent fear memories that may never be erased. For example, if your dairy show animal had a bad experience when loaded on a trailer for the first time, it may be difficult to load in the future.

Here are some strategies for understanding animal behavior:

First, learn your dairy show animal’s unique behavior patterns and help it adjust to new surroundings. Then, be aware of where other people and animals are at the show. This includes the general public as well as other exhibitors. Next, be sure to move slowly and deliberately to and from the show ring. When you’re excited or in a hurry, your animal senses the change in your behavior, and it might try to run away.

Do the best you can to avoid crowded places when leading your dairy animal to the show ring or holding area. Ideally the path from stalls to the show ring will be free of people, however, that’s not the case at many county fairs. You may have to lead your show animal through crowded areas to get to the show ring. It’s your responsibility to keep your animal under control. Most people don’t understand how easy it is to scare a show animal, because it usually looks so calm and those who are familiar with animals often think they can’t be hurt but we must remember – animals are unpredictable.

One way to help prepare your dairy show animal is to practice show day activities at home and again in the show ring before the show. Practice will help your dairy show animal be more comfortable less scared of the show ring.

Knowing these behavior basics can help keep you and your beef show animal safe.

What did you learn?

How did your dairy show animal act the first time you led it on halter? How did you feel the first time you led it? How do your behavior and the surroundings you’re in affect the way your dairy show animal behaves? What can you do to make sure your dairy show animal is ready for the show ring? List some ways you can share with others what you have learned about animal behavior? Now let’s learn about safe facilities and equipment for your dairy show animal.


Youth and trainers for dairy cattle show