Vigilance in Cattle: The influence of predation, social interactions, and environmental factors

Bryan M. Kluever, Stewart W. Breck, Larry D. Howery, Paul R. Krausman, David L. Bergman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


Vigilant behavior in wild ungulates is critical to guard against predation. However, few studies have examined vigilant behavior in domesticated ungulates. Considering the expansion of large predator populations, understanding vigilant behavior and factors that influence it will help with the management of livestock. We observed adult female cattle (Bos taurus L.) in open-range conditions where large predators (wolves [Canis lupus L.] and mountain lions [Puma concolor (L.).]) were common threats during summers of 2005 and 2006 in eastern Arizona. This study was designed to determine 1) to what extent cattle exhibit vigilant behavior compared to published data on wild ungulates, 2) whether predation events influence vigilance rates of cattle, and 3) whether social and environmental factors affect vigilance of cattle. Cattle exhibited vigilant behavior (3% ± 0.19%) during peak foraging periods, but at a lower rate than wild ungulates. Cows with calves were more than twice as vigilant (4.5% ± 0.46%) as those without calves (2.0% ± 0.27%). Single cattle and groups of two to five exhibited higher vigilance rates (4.2% ± 0.79%) than groups of six to 20 (2.5% ± 0.32%) and groups of > 20 (3.0% ± 0.41%). Cattle in groups of > 20 increased vigilance as visual obstruction increased. Mother cows whose calves were preyed upon (n = 5) exhibited a 3% to 48% increase in vigilance within 3 d after their calves were killed; this rate returned to near baseline levels after 10 d. Conversely, mother cows reduced foraging after their calves were killed from 88.5% ± 1.69% to 43.5% ± 11.4%; foraging rate also returned to near baseline levels after 10 d. Cattle exhibit vigilance at lower levels compared to wild ungulates, but this behavior appears to be at least partially an antipredatory behavior. Our findings provide support that predators can influence cattle behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)321-328
Number of pages8
JournalRangeland Ecology and Management
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2008


  • Foraging behavior
  • Group size
  • Herbivore
  • Lactation status
  • Predators
  • Ungulate

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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