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Through the Fence: What Ranchers Want you to Know About Petting & Feeding Their Livestock

Updated: Jan 11, 2023

As ranchers for nearly a decade, our aim is to first-and-foremost keep everyone and everyone's property safe. Next is to make sure the cattle stay as safe as possible. If you've ever seen cows in a fenced pasture from the road or elsewhere, I can guarantee you the ranchers wished you and everyone around you knew this information. I don't want to discourage anyone from a cow encounter, but I do want to teach you how to do it safely and respectfully!

  1. NEVER and I mean NEVER enter a fence or cow pasture without expressed permission or the owner of the cows being present with you. While cows seem gentle and harmless (and many can be), they are very large, unpredictable (especially if frightened), and just like humans--each has its own temperament. I'm an experienced cattle wrangler and there are some members of our own herd I will not get in a pasture with. Plain and simple. Cattle, especially bulls and moms protecting their young can get very territorial, upset, and charge or trample a person in a matter of seconds. It's not worth it. There's a saying "Never trust a bull" for a reason. It doesn't matter how nice or tame a bull seems (any age), they can turn in a second and become aggressive. Even an overly playful bull can do damage to fencing, vehicles, and definitely humans. They're big and mostly muscle, so they're STRONG. Also, to fully debunk the myth: you cannot tip a cow, they're really good at standing up. In fact, it's pretty darn tough to get a week-old calf on the ground, much less a fully grown cow, bull, or steer. You'll simply scare it off or provoke it to protect itself, which could end badly for you. Cows sleep laying down contrary to popular belief. They're prey animals and they have better eyesight than us at night. They can see 330° all around them and with a turn of their head, they can quickly see the other 30°. That means if they're looking side-to-side, they can get a 360° view of their environment in seconds. Whether they're standing or laying down, they're listening and watching and know you're there before you even enter their pasture.

  2. Never feed cattle unless the owner has given permission to do so and only feed them what and how much they approve. Feeding treats to cows can be fun, however, over-doing it can lead to (sometimes severe enough to require veterinary intervention) digestive problems or worse, especially if the animal is not used to what they're being fed in large quantities. Just because you have a bag of cattle feed doesn't mean it's safe for the animal to feed it, and especially not the whole bag--less is more as a cow's digestive system can be thrown off quite easily. Our cattle are grass fed. This means their gut microbes and pH are balanced on and accustomed to a grass-only diet. Feeding a lot of grain-based cattle feed or cubes at once can cause the pH to become very acidic, kill off good microbes, and cause bad microbes to multiply too quickly. Not feeding grain is the main way we keep our cattle so healthy (it's not good for them and it's not what they're designed to eat). Anything outside of the cow's routine diet can lead to digestive upset, severe sickness, bloat, and yes--even death of the animal.

  3. NEVER hold feed or treats on your side of the fence forcing cattle to put any parts of their faces or heads through or over fencing. This not only damages the fencing and could hurt the animal, but encourages them to challenge fencing. If they figure out they can put their head through just enough to get that lucious blade of grass on the other side of the fence without too much pain, they'll start doing it everywhere. Eventually they'll find the weakest part of the fence and probably get through it. Barbed-wire cattle fencing is a mind game for cows. They can easily get through it or jump it--they're 600-1100lbs of tough skin and muscle. Their respect of the 5 strands of barbed wire is essential to keep them where they need to be, to keep people and property safe where they are pastured, keep them out of roadways and front yards, and keep the rancher from needing to go and capture them in dangerous and costly ways from woods, highways, neighborhoods, and businesses. When a cow, bull, or steer jumps or breaks through a fence, it's very stressful for everyone involved. Cattle are not only living creatures that require safe and proper care, but also a rancher's investment of time, energy, and money. Fencing materials to repair fences are not cheap, either. Not to mention it can be really dangerous to try and capture a loose cow and it often requires lots of man-power, sometimes police officers, and time we simply don't have to lose. All this to say, if you want to feed a cow a treat, but are unwilling to put your hand inside the fence so they don't have to stretch through or over it (which I DO NOT recommend--one cow shoving another against your hand or arm could absolutely break it), the best and safest way is to toss the treats over to them. Even a more substantial fence than barbed wire, if cows are encouraged to bear any weight on the fence with their necks while feeding, can cause it to stretch and sag, damaging it and causing a low spot for any herd members who are prone to being "jumpers." You may not get to hand-feed them, but you are helping the ranchers keep everyone and everything safe, secure, and undamged.

It's our goal to share as much as possible about our beloved cattle friends and give you all the information possible to have a safe and happy encounter with them!

Happy Mooing!

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