How Cattle Perceive Their World
Cattle really see the world differently. A cow may see more than you see and is often distracted by motion off to the side. However, she doesn't see the world as clear and sharply focused as humans see it, and it takes her more time to process what she has seen. Cattle have panoramic vision in excess of 300 degrees and only have a blind spot directly in the back of their heads. Human vision, by comparison, is roughly 180 degrees, and we have a much larger blind spot.
While their field of vision is practically unlimited, cattle have poor depth perception of nearby objects and have limited vertical vision. Cattle must lower their heads to focus on something on the ground because they only have about 60 degrees of vertical vision, compared to 140 degrees for humans. Due to their limitation in vertical vision and their lack of ability to focus quickly, a shadow on the ground appears to them to be a three-mile deep crevasse!
Handlers can help reduce distractions and shadowing by taking these limitations into consideration and using a solid-sided working alley. Also, uniformity in color of handling facilities will reduce balking. Curved, solidly enclosed, and well-lighted working facilities take advantage of these senses, along with the animal's strong desire to find an avenue of escape when confined.
Cattle also hear differently than humans. They can hear both lower volume and higher frequency sounds better than people. It may be the sound of your truck, with feed in it, more than the sight of the truck, that makes those cows "come a runnin'."
Cattle hear extremely well, but the trade-off is that they have less ability to locate the source of a sound. People can pinpoint where a sound came from within 5 degrees, whereas cattle can only isolate the source down to about 30 degrees.
Be mindful of cattle with severe sight problems, such as an advanced case of cancer eye, as they will rely to a greater extent on their sense of hearing. Thus, they may suddenly swing around to investigate a noise.
Excerpt from: Cattle Handling and Working Facilities
Stephen Boyles, OSUE Beef Specialist
Jeff Fisher, OSUE Agriculture and Natural Resources, Pike County
Gary Fike, OSUE Associate, Youth Livestock Quality Assurance