Cows and bulls, as large animals, can exhibit aggressive and unpredictable behaviour. For this reason, cattle often have a metal ring inserted into their nasal septum for training and control purposes. Such a ring provides the handler a bit of extra safety due to the pressure it places on the sensitive areas of the bull's nose, explains the UC Davis Veterinary Medicine Extension.
Suggested bull-handling methods involve the bull ring, one or two halters, a bull staff and two handlers, all used together. A bull staff--a long metal or wood pole with a clip on the end--attaches to the nose ring. This allows a degree of separation from the bull and the handler, therefore reducing the chance of the handler being trampled or injured by the horns of the animal.
A veterinarian typically inserts a nose ring in bulls between 9 and 12 months of age, reports the UC Davis website. Often, the veterinarian will use a scalpel or punch to pierce the septum of the bull where the ring attaches. Self-piercing rings, which feature sharp ends on each side of the ring, eliminate the need for the veterinarian's scalpel.
A weaning ring, while worn in the nose, has an entirely different use and purpose. Separation during weaning can cause weight loss and anxiety to dams, calves and herds. Weaning rings--plastic, removable, spring-loaded rings--go into the calf's nose. The plastic spikes cause a mild discomfort and annoyance to the dam, who ceases to allow the calf to suckle, "Alberta Beef Magazine" reports.
Many people point to piercing the nose of a cow or bull as cruel and inhumane, while others argue that the bull ring remains a necessary tool for the safe handling of such a large and dangerous animal. According to the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, bull attacks cause more than 42 per cent of livestock-related fatalities. The CFA puts the probability of surviving a bull attack at less than 1 in 20.
Workers should never lead a bull only by a nose ring, and should instead use it in conjunction with other methods to add an extra element of leverage. The safety of the farmer depends on proper handling practices, and cattle workers should view the nose ring as an effective aid rather than a independent method of handling.