Males of about any species tend to be more aggressive than females. This comment by Eldon Cole, University of Missouri Extension livestock specialist, focused on factors involved in maintaining safe conditions when working around farm animals.
He noted that it is testosterone levels that make males more aggressive than females.
However, there are exceptions. One is that when a female has a young calf to care for, she will be highly aggressive. I have heard of about as many people being attacked, and some hurt, by cows protecting their young, as I have about males going after a person.
We need to be more careful around our animals. You may have a cow that tends to be gentle. But her attitude does change after delivering a calf, and she will tend to be quite aggressive when she is trying to protect a calf, especially when it is only a few days old. It is during that first couple of weeks that some females are more aggressive.
Cole cautioned, "When people are trying to ear tag a newborn calf, and are out there by themselves, they need to watch that cow. A few weeks later, the cow may not even cast an eye on the person who is trying to work with a calf."
But, Cole added that there are some breed differences.  "Temperament varies among cattle from breed to breed. Jersey bulls, and dairy bulls in general, seem to have a worse reputation about being aggressive at any time."
He noted that at times a young heifer or steer will get really agitated when you work with them in a small area, and will act like they will take after you.  For this reason, some breed associations have begun scoring their animals on attitude and temperament, because agitated cattle tend to be poorer performing, he said.
Eldon Cole turned to why this trend is taking place, and explained,  "The increasing age of a lot of people who handle beef cattle, or people who cannot get around now as well as they formerly could, means they do not want to put up with aggravated cattle.
"A lot of newcomers or first-time cattle owners are more insecure around big livestock. Also, more women now are involved with raising cattle and they can be more wary of overly aggressive cattle."
He continued,  "We send a number of steers to a feedlot in Iowa, and the people there score the cattle, by observation, as they go through the chute, to see how docile or aggressive the animals are.  
He added that more docile cattle grade better on carcass and quality than do the more hyper cattle, the nervous, excitable ones that tend to come looking for you and might want to hurt you.
He said that in working with cattle, people should keep their guard up at all times.  
"Try to avoid any confrontation with cattle.  We probably bring on some of these problems ourselves, he observed.  If you are working cattle and you get too rough with them, or chase them with horses or dogs, they are more likely to retaliate."
He added, "The man or woman handling the livestock need to have responsibility to go easy in working with livestock on the farm. We have seen how animals of other species tend to react to humans in a manner similar to the way the humans have reacted to the animals.
"We caution people not to make pets out of bulls. Make them respect you. Don't just come up and rub them on the head all the time. They can have a change of attitude on short notice. Respect them at all times."


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