Cattle really see the world differently. A cow may see more than you see and is often distracted by motion off to the side. However, she doesn't see the world as clear and sharply focused as humans see it, and it takes her more time to process what she has seen. Cattle have panoramic vision in excess of 300 degrees and only have a blind spot directly in the back of their heads. Human vision, by comparison, is roughly 180 degrees, and we have a much larger blind spot.
While their field of vision is practically unlimited, cattle have poor depth perception of nearby objects and have limited vertical vision. Cattle must lower their heads to focus on something on the ground because they only have about 60 degrees of vertical vision, compared to 140 degrees for humans. Due to their limitation in vertical vision and their lack of ability to focus quickly, a shadow on the ground appears to them to be a three-mile deep crevasse!
Handlers can help reduce distractions and shadowing by taking these limitations into consideration and using a solid-sided working alley. Also, uniformity in color of handling facilities will reduce balking. Curved, solidly enclosed, and well-lighted working facilities take advantage of these senses, along with the animal's strong desire to find an avenue of escape when confined.
Cattle also hear differently than humans. They can hear both lower volume and higher frequency sounds better than people. It may be the sound of your truck, with feed in it, more than the sight of the truck, that makes those cows "come a runnin'."
Cattle hear extremely well, but the trade-off is that they have less ability to locate the source of a sound. People can pinpoint where a sound came from within 5 degrees, whereas cattle can only isolate the source down to about 30 degrees.
Be mindful of cattle with severe sight problems, such as an advanced case of cancer eye, as they will rely to a greater extent on their sense of hearing. Thus, they may suddenly swing around to investigate a noise.
Comfort/Flight Zone Affects Reactions
People and cattle have a comfort/flight zone that affects how we react.
In many Western cultures, two feet is considered the comfort zone for conversing with another person. In some other Eastern regions of the world, six inches is considered normal. At parties, you might observe Western speakers backing up to seek their comfort zone and Eastern speakers following them to maintain their comfort zone. Also, consider that we typically turn and face someone who is talking to us.
Just as we have some predictable behaviors, so do cattle. Understanding this behavior can be very useful in designing cattle-handling facilities.
The flight zone (comfort zone) is the animal's personal space. The flight zone may be five to 25 feet for tame cattle or feedlot cattle and 300 feet for some wild cattle. The flight zone increases when the approach is from the head, and the flight zone also increases when cattle are excited. The flight zone decreases when animals are in a single file chute.
Cattle will normally move effectively if the handler works on the edge of the flight zone. Deep invasion of the flight zone can cause animals to panic. In Figure 1, Position A is the location outside of the flight zone where animals will stop moving forward, and Position B, inside the flight zone, will cause the animal to move away from the handler.
Entering the flight zone
Livestock handlers need to understand the flight zone and the point of balance. The point of balance for cattle is typically at the shoulder. To make an animal move forward, the handler should stand behind the point of balance. To move the animal backward, the handler stands in front of the point of balance. The animal may try to turn if the handler enters the animal's blind spot. Therefore, don't walk directly behind an animal, but off to the side so you can be seen.
Careful, quiet handling of cattle will help improve productivity. Stress imposed by handling and transport can have detrimental effects on weight gain, rumen function, reproductive function, and the immune system. Quiet handling reduces stress-related meat-quality problems such as dark cutters. The amount of stress imposed on an animal is an interaction involving previous experience and genetics.
How quiet your cattle are is at least partially a function of how they are worked. Cattle can remember rough handling. While most cattle will calm
down when they are handled quietly, a small percentage of them may remain excited. Highly excitable cattle should be culled. To accurately cull for temperament, there should be a minimum of two observations. More than one evaluation is required to avoid culling a good animal that became excited because an animal next to it became agitated. A behavior classification table helps in assessing which animals should be culled.
1 = Docile - Gentle; handles quietly; slightly elevated respiration.
2 = Restless - More active; elevated respirations but settles down after joining the group once again.
3 = Nervous - Constant movement; occasionally bumps fences and gates; settles down only after several minutes after returning to the group.