Beef cattle

Many people assume all beef cattle are kept outside in fields. But, this is not always the case, with some beef production systems cattle are housed throughout their lives and others house animals during the winter period.

We have some serious concerns about cattle welfare and have been working in a number of ways to try to improve the lives of beef cattle.

Cattle behaviour

  • Cattle are primarily grazing animals (i.e. they eat grasses and other low-down vegetation) that ruminate (chew the cud). They spend most of the day (up to 9 hours) grazing, and long periods resting and ruminating.
  • Cattle are social animals and in some situations can find isolation from other cattle stressful. 
  • They form strong social hierarchies ('pecking orders') within their herds.
  • Being prey animals, cattle usually keep a safe 'flight distance' between themselves and anything they think could be a threat. 
  • They have a wide field of vision, accurate hearing (more sensitive than humans) and a strong sense of smell with which to detect possible predators. 
  • Because they are prey animals, they have evolved to not show easily recognisable signs of suffering. For example, sick or injured cattle may not vocalise loudly because, in the wild, this could attract the attention of a predator. This lack of expression means that people sometimes don't notice subtle changes in behaviour that may indicate cattle are in pain or distress.

If you are concerned about the welfare of beef cattle, then find out how you can help.

Further information:

As well as the information on these pages, we've also produced the welfare of beef cattle information sheet November 2019

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