Isn't he sweet? This is Cory, our Corriente steer whom we bought inexpensively from a steer roper. The problem is he has horns. That makes him a bit more aggressive. Then there was the treatment of being roped repeatedly and jerked around plus chased over and over again.
Our neighbor, a rancher, was in two pens over working and Cory came to the fence and rattled his horns, rubbing them against the fence sending the very clear message that if he came over, Cory was going to try and hurt him. He was a stranger and walks like a cowboy. The steer felt threatened though the neighbor did nothing to provoke it.
This gentlemen is a phenomenal horse and beef whisperer. We once, like it's only been once, had trouble loading a Angus steer and so we called our friend who came down. He helped me work the steer a little around the pen and then said he's ready to be loaded. We worked him toward the trailer and ten feet away, he said to stop and hold still. The steer would load himself now. With my mouth hanging open, the steer walked over to the trailer and hopped in just as quiet as you please. I have learned a ton from this gentlemen but can not be called any animal whisperer.
Though Cory has excuses for his behavior, we've had non horn cattle that made threatening moves also. Every bum calf that reaches a year old will try and challenge you. Some over and over like Miss Beasley did each month. I tapped a two by four firmly across her nose and she'd be good for another month. Bums having had such close contact with people have little fear or no fear especially of the one who bottle feeds. That person is just part of the herd. A instinctive desire to establish a social order or hierarchy insuses at around a year old unless you've handled them wrong and bad habits creep in sooner.
Ignorance of body language will get you into huge trouble. Years ago in ignorance of the messages we were sending, our daughter led a perturbed steer, who had just had a hair cut for a beef show, into a horse trailer where he proceeded to beat the tar out of her. She had a series of surgery's over the next thirteen months. That was when we began to learn steer talk.
Cows may moos but like most animals they do most of their communicating through body language. Cory challenged me yesterday by lowering his head and moving threateningly toward me tipping his horns back and forth lightly. He was testing the water and though he hadn't gotten to the full, I'm going to get you stance, ( I've had cows with calf do that one) I'd of been a fool not to state that I was the Alpha in the situation. I was bluffing. Cory need not know that. He could take me any day with his body mass, horns, and speed but he doesn't know that. I've been establishing my role in the pen as Alpha since he arrived.
I reached out tapped him on the nose with the end of the pitchfork in my hand. Had I not, he would have challenged me again more seriously. Maybe not that day but definitely in the days to come. I had a handy weapon that time and was greatful for the added threat. I've had to use just body language before and that isn't as comforting. You are saying, "Please back down, please back down." over and over in your mind. A bit of advice, never start the challenge, you may not be able to talk your way out of it.
In horses if you know what you are doing, it isn't the first ride that you are as concerned about but the second. That's the one they are most likely to buck on. They've spent the first ride analyzing you and finding your weak points. So Cory was once more testing me to see if he could move up the social ladder into first place and the arrival of the pitchfork made him nervous giving him an excuse. I had not challenged him.
Note my body position in relation to his and note his body position. I'm sideways, not looking at him, and poking my horns into the ground away from him.
See him lower his head a little? That means he is growing uncomfortable. His eyes will open up wider also. I'm bending forward and he sees the pitchfork as an extension of my body.
Now I'm partially turning my body toward him and the pitchfork is headed toward him which is even more challenging and he lowers his head even more. No, he is not just looking more closely at it. He is locking on and in this shot you can't see his eyes real well but they are still soft and his showing no alarm. It wasn't the case yesterday.
Distance creates or diminishes a threatening factor. My body language like this yesterday would have evoked a challenging body position by Cory though we are a ways apart. I'm bent as he would bend and my horns are facing him. Now if I would have gone full body frontal, head lowered, eye locked on him, and pitchfork extended, Katy bar the door, he might have attacked. The exact position you would naturally do pitching hay.
Cory isn't as likely to challenge me today after I came out on top yesterday. A few weeks ago, it didn't take but walking toward him to invoke a challenge. Now I get the sleepy eye and I walk toward his hind quarters or shoulder, never directly at him and I never look him in the eye. I'm not asking for trouble with those horns and 700 pounds of muscle.Gracie here had the pitchfork pointed at her and my head lowered and she ignored me. She knows I'm just cleaning up hay and manure. She's been with us for two and a half years. She's a bit desensitized knowing that she's challenged me lightly lots of times and lost. But none the less, I'm not going out of my way to threaten her. I don't look her directly in the eye and my body is not in a full frontal position toward her.
You don't have to lower your head just look my mare in the eye and you just threatened her BIG time. She gets the evil eye when she's in trouble. Other than that I don't look her directly in the eye. Animals become desensitized through human contact. Every move you make around them is a lesson taught. There interpretation of that lesson directs whether they become aggressive or passive. But pats, facing them, and looking them in the eye are all threatening behavior to livestock. Some animals like our Gus Gus who was dumber than a wooden post steer never felt threatened about anything. It would of taken too much brain power. Highly intelligent animals are more difficult to train but train faster. Just know what you are doing or they will be trained in the wrong way.
So if an animal challenges you, or a horse bucks, beware, in your ignorance you might of started it all. Working with livestock is like visiting a foreign country. Don't want to get in trouble, learn the language, send the right message, and show respect for their customs. You are treading in their territory.