Dominance on the Farm



Every group has an order. Humans have a hierarchy. Chickens have a pecking order. Dogs have a pack head. And cows have dominance. In our herd, Scratcher is the unspoken head of the herd, but she allows Bottle Rocket to think that she is. And Rocket takes that job very seriously.

Early this morning, I heard a commotion going on outside. My first thought was that the electric fence wasn’t working again, and the cows had gotten out of the pasture. When I stepped outside and heard the boys in the weaning pen hollering, I just headed that way, figuring that Birdie was out and trying to woo Bossy. As normal, I looked to my left (intending to count heads and see if I could see Birdie), and saw something very unusual. It was a fast-moving cow ‘train’, with Annabelle in the lead. Except, I thought it was Annabelle…I couldn’t see her telltale freckles from all the dirt on her face. Bottle Rocket was next, followed closely by Stickers. Birdie was taking up the position of Caboose. Ordinarily, this might not have been unusual. But in this case, Annabelle was clearly exhausted, but afraid to stop. Seconds later, I figured out why. As Rocket got close enough, she would lower her head and butt Annabelle, as hard as a moving cow could hit a moving target.



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For ten minutes, I watched them go from one end of the pasture. Figure eights. Darting. Dashing. Straight runs. When Annabelle came close to me, I noticed traces of fear, sadness and possibly a bit of guilt in her eyes. She was breathing hard, clearly wanting out of the situation she had put herself in. Finally, Rocket stopped to rest. Which might have been okay, except Stickers took over the battle run. And Stickers has long deadly horns on her head. One butt to Annabelle and I would have been having to do an emergency vet call. Finally, Stickers and Birdie corralled Annabelle into the far North pasture. The two of them stood for a minute, as if to make sure Annabelle was staying put, then moseyed over to the hay ring to join Bottle Rocket for breakfast.

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Go ahead. Challenge me…

I had never seen this behavior before. I knew better than to step into the pasture and try to head Rocket off.  I may be able to dodge one cow, but three – and one with horns?  Even I am not that stupid.  Instead, I called to ask Lorea if she recognized this weird behavior.  She felt like maybe Annabelle had tried to step up in the dominance order, and Rocket was going to have no part in that. Annabelle may have been challenging Rocket, or stepped on her foot.  Maybe she tried for a bite of hay that Rocket wanted – or maybe Rocket is just in a bad mood this morning and took it out on the first cow she saw. Who knows?

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I think everyone has had one of those days – on both sides of the fence. Our bad moods have a tendency to leak out, and we take our frustrations out on the nearest person. There are also times when we have to stand our grounds, and we will charge head on to anyone who challenges us. If we aren’t careful, things can get ugly in a hurry.

When was the last time you were challenged? How did you handle it? Are you the one standing in the corner, or are you the Rocket in the train? I’ve been all four – don’t cross me when it comes to my husband, my children, my animals or my farm. You will wish you only got put in a corner. On the other hand, I have played backup to any of the above when they have been challenged. And yes, I have ended up in a corner when I stepped on someone’s foot unwittingly, and had no choice but to retreat and run.

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Annabelle is still in the corner. If she is still there in an hour or two, I will take some hay out to her. For water, she may have to wait until Rocket is otherwise distracted, or we may be playing train all day long. If it gets too bad, I will separate Annabelle and wait a few days until the slight has been forgotten.
I just hope Annabelle knows how to learn her lesson. There are days when I don’t…

Julie Murphree is a blogger, newspaper columnist, and speaker on all things ‘Living a Simple Life on the Farm’. She is the author of \\\'The Farm Wife – Living a Simple Life on the Farm. She and her husband have 60 acres in NW Louisiana where they actively work on living as sustainable as possible.

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