Each year, beef producers are injured by overly aggressive cows at calving time. In fact, 23 people were killed by cows over a recent 15-year period in Canada. In the U.S., injury reporting by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 14% of fatalities caused by cattle are due to beef cows with calves.

Nonetheless, research in Canada reveals that cattle producers are surprisingly tolerant of aggressive mother cows at calving time, and tend to leave them in the herd for another year. However, those same producers are much more likely to cull a cow that has mis-mothered or abandoned her calf.

These are some of the key findings of a voluntary survey of 168 Canadian cattle producers who collectively own more than 33,600 cattle. The survey was conducted at two major cattle shows and a educational cattle symposium in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

The survey found that roughly 6% of cows with a newborn calf will hurt a producer if given the chance. While seemingly a small number of cows, such dangerous cattle appeared on 76% of the farms surveyed. Surprisingly, however, only 13% of the cattle that producers identified as dangerous in the survey were culled for that reason.

Meanwhile, the incidence of mis-mothering reported (1.4%) was much lower than that of dangerous cattle, but mis-mothering was still seen on 56% of farms. Most prevalent in first-calf heifers, 62% of bad mothers were culled.

The survey results suggest producers may be willing to cope with a dangerous cow for a short period after calving, especially if she raises a good calf. Since revenue is derived from the sale of calves, producers are more likely to tolerate a cow that produces a good calf despite the other problems she presents.

However, producers are less forgiving of cows that mis-mother their calf (see graph). Obviously, cows that mis-mother or abandon their calf require more time and labor, which isn’t easily forgotten by producers.

Meanwhile, the dangerous cow may not require more work, other than to remember to stay away from her. It’s also possible that producers put great value in mothering behavior and some may believe that cows that are dangerous at calving time are perhaps more protective of their calf in other situations (such as when confronted with a predator).