Have you ever noticed that bulls always seem to have an entire field to themselves? Or maybe you’ve wandered past a gate with a “Beware of Bull” sign on it, but there was no bull to be seen? Although it may seem cruel, farmers have very good reasons for keeping bulls isolated away from the rest of the herd.
Bulls usually live by themselves, in a separate field or in a fenced-off area called a bull pen. They are separated from other cows to prevent any injuries or unwanted pregnancies. Sometimes bulls are allowed to live with other bulls, or with other types of animals.
In this article, we’re going to learn all about bulls and where they live, both in the wild and on the farm, learn what it takes to contain a bull, and find out why farmers need to isolate bulls.
Where Do Bulls Live On The Farm?
In agriculture, bulls usually live in a field of their own which is separate from the rest of the herd. When they need to be brought indoors, they are housed in a bull-pen, which helps keep them safe without hindering their ability to socialize.
Bulls typically live alone for health and safety reasons, to help keep both the farmer and the rest of the herd safe.
According to a 2020 report by the Irish Health and Safety Authority, 18% of all agricultural accidents in Ireland involve a bull.
What is a Bull Pen?
Bulls have been known to jump six foot high fences to get to a cow, so it’s important to keep them safely controlled. A bull pen achieves this, while still allowing the bull to socialize, and without posing a confinement hazard to anyone handling the bull.
A bull pen is the name for a custom-built structure found on most farms, designed specifically to hold a bull safely, but without preventing them from eating or socializing, and while providing a quick and safe exit for the farmer if he has to leave the pen quickly.
Bull pens are usually made with half-height concrete or wooden walls, and metal railings on top which are at least as tall as the bull. (Some bulls can reach 6ft tall!)
Many bull pens also have a small gap or protected area at the bottom of the fence called a refuge, to allow a human to escape the pen easily in case the bull gets angry!
The idea of a bull pen is to keep the bull contained safely, but not to deprive them of the ability to socialize with other bulls. Socialization is extremely important for cows and bulls, and without it they can develop neurological disorders.
Read More: Are Cows Sociable?
Why Do Bulls Kept By Themselves?
In a farming setting, bulls are kept apart from other cows for sake of farmer safety, minimizing unwanted pregnancies, and preventing any injuries to the rest of the herd caused by aggressive bull behavior.
Let’s take a look at each of these in turn:
1. To Keep the Farmer Safe
Bulls can be extremely dangerous for farmers. They are more aggressive than cows or steers, and they are usually much larger and more muscular.
Read More: How Strong is a Bull?
In addition, bulls are usually less socialized than cows which means they are more likely to perceive the farmer as a threat compared to regular cattle who deal with the farmer daily.
Keeping bulls separate helps keep the farmer safe, since it means the bull can be handled on their own with the help of a cattle crush.
2. To Minimize Pregnancies Outwith the Breeding Season
Farmers do not like to have cows popping out calves willy-nilly and try to keep all pregnancies within a defined breeding season, which usually lasts for between one and two months.
This is especially important for dairy farmers, who need to impregnate their entire herd to keep the milk flowing.
Keeping the bull separate helps prevent any unwanted pregnancies which could mess up the farmer’s carefully laid plans.
Read More: Guide to Cow Pregnancy and Birth
3. To Prevent Injuries to the Rest of the Herd
Bulls tend to be more aggressive than steers or cows, and may more readily fight over cows with the rest of the herd.
This can cause serious injuries which can lead to lameness in cattle.
To prevent this, farmers keep bulls separated from the cows, sometimes on their own and sometimes with other bulls.
As long as there are no cows to fight over, bulls get on well with other bulls, steers, and even other animals.
Where Did Cows and Bulls Live Originally?
The first bulls lives as part of large groups of wild bovine herd animals which originated in Africa and made their way to Europe and Asia.
The most recent common ancestor of all domestic cows (and bulls) is the Auroch, which was endemic to Central Europe and Asia.
Read More: How Were Cows Domesticated?
Do Bulls Live Alone or with Other Cows?
In an agricultural setting, bulls don’t usually live with other cows. This is to avoid injuries due to aggression or unwanted pregnancies.
Although bulls are usually separated from other animals on the farm, in the wild, bulls usually live with the rest of the herd.
Since there aren’t really many examples of feral cattle for us to observe how they live in the wild, many of our observations and understandings about cow behavior comes from observing buffalo, bison, and other bovines who share a common ancestor with modern cows.
To sum up, bulls usually live by themselves on a farm, since they are kept apart from the rest of the herd in a separate field or bull pen.
Occasionally, bulls are housed with other bulls, or with other male cattle. As long as there aren’t any females for them to fight over, bulls can live together in peace.
When bulls need to be brought inside, they are kept in a bull pen. This is a strong, specially designed enclosure which keeps the bulls safely controlled while allowing them to socialize, and allowing the farmer a quick escape incase the bull becomes dangerous.
Though there aren’t too many feral domestic cattle, we know from looking at other bovine herd species that bulls would live with the rest of the herd if they were in the wild.