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Cow Psycology 401: Think Like a Cow

written by

Carole Soule

posted on

May 6, 2024

Cow Psychologist Carole reads her cattle so well that she knows when she can sit on one. Here she is astride Red, a 12-year-old Scottish Highland steer at Miles Smith Farm in Loudon.

Cow Coach Carole's Words Wisdom: Never think you're smart enough. There's always more to learn.


    Do you ever wonder how your dog thinks? It's usually easy to read your dog's mind

    : "I want to go out," "I'm hungry (always)," "I love you." How about your cat? She's more like, "Leave me alone," "Scratch my belly," "Leave me alone. I mean it. Leave. Me. Alone." Our pets have trained us how to behave, and, for some reason, we love them for it. Cats and dogs are usually smaller than most of us, so if they get out of hand, we can overpower them, which sometimes works.

    But what about cattle? Cows are bigger and heavier than humans, so forcing them to do anything is impossible. Instead, it takes a lot of convincing. But before the convincing comes observation. I've watched and learned cow psychology in the 24 years I've raised cattle. If you want to control a cow, here are four basic rules. There are more, lots more, which I'll share with you in future columns.

    Basic Cow Psychology

    1. Cattle follow a leader. They are herd animals and are comfortable with a leader. When they were wild, before domestication, the leader knew where the best grass was and where to find water. When moving cattle, I rely on a "lead" cow, calf, or bull who will follow my directions. Where that animal goes, the others will follow.
    2. Leaders change. Once a bovine physically moves to the front of the herd, it is the leader, and the others will follow.
    3. Energy: Most cattle respect the right kind of energy. If I am frantic, the cattle shut down and won't listen. They don't respect a leader who is emotional or confused. They will only follow a calm, assertive leader. I used to think it was my commands, but it's more about how I give them.
    4. Most importantly, The human is the alpha cow. If the herd leader respects me, they all will, so I must convince her I'm the alpha. This understanding between us and the cattle, this unique bond, is what makes our relationship special. Usually, it's easy to establish this understanding – a tap on the horn with a stick, and I'm accepted. Of course, if a rogue bull or nasty cow doesn't accept me as alpha and charges me, that one is destined for the meat market. There are rules, after all.

    There's so much to learn about bovines. Check in time week, and I'll tell you about rewarding cattle.


    Carole Soule is co-owner of Miles Smith Farm, where she raises and sells beef, pork, eggs, and other local products. She can be reached at Carole also coaches humans, helping them achieve the impossible a little at a time.

    Cow Psychology

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