CZAAWE Resource Article

The behaviour of beef cattle at pasture
Publication Type 
Journal Article
Year of publication 
Applied Animal Behaviour Science
One of the Five Freedoms established by the British Farm Animal Welfare Council is the freedom for animals to express normal behaviour. However, for beef cattle, the major problem with this is to establish what constitutes “normal”. In the absence of surviving wild ancestors, the best that can be done is to study the behaviour of cattle at pasture with minimal human intervention. While several studies have been conducted in an attempt to do this, most have major limitations. These limitations include the total lack of a complete time budget, very low numbers of animals studied, allowing animals to graze very restricted areas of pasture and the observation of single animals in a herd rather than the whole herd itself. In this study, we observed, during the hours of daylight, the behaviour of six herds of beef steers run under commercial conditions in Australia. Because of the distances involved, it was impossible to determine whether the animals were ruminating. Therefore resting and ruminating are combined. A time budget was constructed consisting of 18 behaviours. There were significant differences between the herds in the proportion of time that the animals allocated to grazing, lying resting/ruminating, standing resting/ruminating and walking. The main conclusion is that beef cattle at pasture spend approximately 95% of their time engaged in the major behaviours of grazing, resting/ruminating while either lying or standing and walking. An analysis of the diurnal rhythm of grazing indicated periods of increased grazing early in the morning and late in the afternoon in five of the herds, and in one of these, there was also a period of increased grazing in the middle of the day. In the sixth herd, there was no apparent diurnal rhythm in grazing behaviour.