The act of or process of giving birth to offspring.  Before understanding the behaviors of giving birth a little physiology must be understood.  The gestation length in cattle is approximately 284 days.  Parturition begins due to stress placed on the fetus as it runs out of room.  The act of parturition in cattle can be divided into three phases.  The first phase is a stage of preparation and lasts from two-six hours.  This phase entails the fetus positioning itself in the birth canal and the dilation of the cervix.  The cow will begin to show signs of distress like turning toward her flank and separating herself from the herd.

Stage 2 Expulsion

The uterus begins to contract, forcing the fetus into the cervical canal and the dilation of the cervix. The cow will become restless, getting up and lying down repeatedly.

Stage 2 Expulsion

 The ideal birth would have the dam lying on her right side while the calf is expelled.  The front hooves are exposed first both pointed forward.  The head emerges next and lastly the hind hooves both pointing upward.  The expulsion process should last between 30 minutes to 4 hours.

 Stage 3 Cleaning Stage

The stage should be completed within 8-12 hours of expulsion of the fetus.  The placenta is expelled from the cow during this stage and the calf is cleaned.  The smell and taste of the birth fluids drives the maternal instinct.  Between 30-50% of the dams time in first hour after birth.  Cows learn to identify there calf by smell during this time. 

Neonatal Behavior

First Stand

Soon after birth, the calf will attempt to stand with many failed attempts. It is advantageous for the calf to stand as soon as possible in order to begin nursing since colostrum can only be absorbed for a 24 hour period.


 The fact or state of being dominant or the position of highest authority in a social hierarchy.  Dominance is important to the behavior of cattle in order to maintain the structure of the herd’s hierarchy.  These hierarchies control direction of grazing, when to flee from danger, position at the feed through and, mating.  Hierarchies are established when cattle are young and those positions are maintained usually with just dominant gestures and threats.

 Threat Gestures

 There are multiple behaviors performed by cattle considered to be threat gestures.  These behaviors force the other cattle to either fight or flee.  The use of a warning system like this is important to the herd because, it allows the hierarchy to be maintained, which is important to herd function, without constant fighting between the animals.  By reducing the number of fights the herd reduces the number of injuries that occur. 

Head butting can become very aggressive but is often little more than nudging another cows head away from a feed through.

Lateral positioning is another threat gesture and consists of the animal standing perpendicular to the other with there head lowered and turned towards there target.  This position is often coupled with snorting and stomping in order to make it even more threatening.

Fights do sometimes occur especially between intact males.  These fights include butting heads or sometimes butting weaker parts of the other animal.  Fights rarely last very long and are over when ever one of the animals backs down.


 The behavior exhibited by heifers and cows that relates to there willingness to accept a male for mating.  Cattle have a 21 day estrous cycle.  The ability for a producer to spot these estrus behaviors is important so that they can take advantage of the animal’s fertility when it is presented.  There are three stages of heat that are expressed in cattle, pre heat, standing heat and, post heat.

Pre Heat

 This stage of estrus is brought on by the higher levels of estrogen produced by the ovaries.  The signs of this stage include mucus discharge from the vulva and increasing redness of the vulva as blood flow to the animal’s reproductive areas is increased.  The behaviors exibited during this time include riding of other cows, chin resting and, licking other cows.

 Standing Heat

 The behaviors associated with this stage of estrus are due to the high levels of GnRH and a spike in LH which causes ovulation.  Cows in this stage of estrus stand to be ridden by other cows, rides other cows, chin resting and, restlessness shown by increase in movement.  In an environment with bulls present these behaviors signal to the bull that the cow is willing to accept the bull sexually.


 Post Heat

 This stage is marked by the decrease of estrogen production.  The behaviors that were prevalent in earlier stages like mounting other cows cease to occur and the cow will no longer stand to be ridden herself.  The mucus discharge from the vulva is less apparent but much thicker.  A bloody discharge from vulva can also be seen sometimes. 


The fear of new things in cattle stems from a survival instinct related to their nature as prey animals.  When presented with a novel object, the animals will initially exhibit a fear response. The most dominant animal will lead the herd to investigate. The size of the object determines the rate of approach.