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The Herd Heard

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Published on Jan. 25, 2020

I’ve always been a very curious fellow. I think it was my curiosity that made me a writer as the poet Alastair Reid wrote, “Only the curious have a tale worth telling.”

            One of the things I’ve always been curious about is what sense is it that makes cows run to the feed truck? Can they smell the hay on the truck? Cows do actually have a better sense of smell than humans and that’s saying something because we all know a cop can smell a donut five miles away and my wife can smell Olive Garden’s Fettuccine Alfredo two counties away.   

            Speaking of my wife, did you know women can smell better than men?                   

            I’ve always wondered what makes cows so reluctant to enter a squeeze chute and always assumed they associated it with pain, but I did some research and found it’s because cows can smell stress in another cow’s urine and this is what makes them balk. I also discovered that butterflies taste with their feet and turtles can breathe through their butts.

            In addition to the five senses humans have, cows have an extra sense. Using a Google satellite, scientists looked at the way cows were laying down and found out they invariably faced north or south along earth’s magnetic field lines. This extra sense is called a sense of magnetic direction!

            Being a curious person, I have lots of unanswered questions such as, when a Holstein cow laughs does milk come out its nose? I also wonder if the gene in buffalo that makes them paw through snow to get to the grass could be inserted into a cow’s DNA. But the biggest question I have is what makes cows run to the feed truck?

            Why, for example, did cows run to the truck when it was full of hay but didn’t run to the same truck when I drove up the dirt road to the house with no hay? At first I thought that they could see the hay on the truck because of their acute sense of sight. After all, vision is the dominant sense in cattle, responsible for 50 percent of the knowledge they gain from their senses. They have panoramic vision and their only blind spot is directly behind them. That’s why you should never drive cattle from directly behind them but should be off to one side or sweep back and forth. 

            Initially I thought cows ran to the truck because of their acute sense of smell. Scientists say cattle can smell something six miles away but I question whether cows are such good smellers, after all, how can they spend four months in a feedlot if they can smell so good? But I do know smell is very important to cattle and is how bulls find cows to mate with, their sense of smell being a more determining factor than how studly they are. This must be true with humans too or why else would my wife have married me? My smell has always been one of my stronger points.

            The reason I question that it’s sight that makes cows run to the feed truck is one time my truck broke down and I had to borrow my friend’s red truck to feed my cows. When I went out with the red truck loaded with hay the cows DID NOT come a runnin’. I attributed this to the fact that cows are red/green color blind. Imagine that… an invisible feed truck!

            Because the cows couldn’t see my friend’s invisible feed truck, I borrowed a blue truck from another friend and still the cows stayed put. Interestingly, when I got my own truck back from the shop I filled it with hay and still the cows didn’t run to meet me. This led me to believe that what makes cows run to the feed truck is their sense of hearing. They didn’t run to my feed truck like they had in the past because it was now running on eight cylinders instead of four so the sound was different. 

            There is one other remote possibility, not worth mentioning really. The cows may have caught on to the fact that I’m a sub-optimal spender and only bought old, moldy and terrible-tasting hay and their sense of taste told them it wasn’t worth running to the truck for.

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