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A Steer With a Bad Complexion

April 17, 2022

Red, a Scottish Highlander steer, has to live with the horses. He’d rather be with his bovine friends, but that is impossible.

Last winter, icicles of blood dangled from the Scottish Highlander steer’s face, and raw patches of skin were exposed to the weather. He looked like he’d lost a bar fight. But 10-year-old Red was a victim of too much love.

Cattle often groom each other by licking. It’s a sign of affection and a request to be licked in return. Brushing my cattle imitates licking. Curious Bleu, another Highlander steer, will lower his head in appreciation as I drag a stiff brush across his back or groom hard-to-reach places like his neck or tail dock. If cattle could purr, Bleu would hum his appreciation.

Red is Isolated

Red is a glutton for affection. He let Finn, another steer, lick his face raw. When I realized what was going on, I moved Red to another field, out of reach of Finn’s raspy tongue. But then the cow Dancer took over where Finn left off. Red’s face will become a bloody mess if I leave him with other cattle, so I put him in with the horses, Snap and Moose.

At 1,800 pounds and with horns out to here, you’d think Red would dominate the horses. Instead, Snap bared his teeth and ran at Red. Moose did the same. If Red was at the hay feeder and Snap wanted him out of the way, Snap turned to kick him with his rear legs. Red got the idea and stayed away from the hay when the horses were around. I was OK with this because Red could stand to lose a few pounds. He’s fat which is not good for his legs or ligaments. Fat cattle can get arthritis, and there are no joint-replacement surgeries for bovines.

We always set aside a pile of hay for Red so he does get enough to eat, but his home life is joyless. Red will stand at the gate, ready to dash out if I’m not looking. He escaped twice and ran, full tilt, to the cattle pasture and charged through the wire gate to get back with his bovine buddies But with a bribe of a bag of carrots, Red let me put a halter on him and walked calmly behind me back to the disagreeable horse pasture.

Looking for a Friend

So, what is it about Red? No other cow or steer on my farm gets licked like Red. Could he have an extra-sweet gene that makes him tasty to other cattle? My horses would rather kick him than kiss him. Maybe I can find a steer among our collection that can be his friend but resist that delicious face of his. Until then, he’ll have to put up with the contrary horses. 


Carole Soule

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