Nose rings are worn by some bulls for the purpose of making them easier to handle. A full-grown bull can be an extremely dangerous animal that poses a serious threat to his handlers, and using a ring in the nose increases the level of control over the bull, making the animal safer to be around. In fact, farmers boast that a toddler could safely lead a bull with a nose ring, although field tests of this claim are not advised. Rings may also be used on other cattle as well, especially in the show ring.
The classic nose ring used on bulls is hinged to make it easy to snap open, insert, and lock. It is installed when the animal is around eight months of age, usually by a veterinarian who applies local anesthetic to the nose before punching a hole and then threading the ring through and snapping it shut. The tissue in the nose is very sensitive, so a light touch on the ring can be a powerful cue to the bull that wears it.
For safety, leads are usually clipped onto the ring and onto a halter, providing two methods of control. Two handlers may be used for additional security. When a bull is led around by the nose, he tends to follow, and he is usually not inclined to attack his handlers. If a bull does start to act up, a sharp tug will be used to remind him that the humans are in charge.
In addition to wearing permanent nose rings, bulls can also be controlled with bull tongs or bulldogs, a clip-on form used for temporary handling. These styles are also used to handle cattle in general for the show ring, allowing handlers more control without the need to install and maintain a permanent ring. Specialized calf weaning rings are also sometimes used to assist with the process of weaning on farms where calves and their mothers are not separated.
Nose rings are usually installed by a veterinarian for safety reasons and for the health of the bull. The process involves the creation of a deep puncture wound in sensitive tissue, and it is important to get the placement of the ring right. Anesthetic also helps keep the bull more comfortable while the ring is installed. The veterinarian may need to return to check the fit and to replace the ring if necessary. Multiple handlers are also needed for the placement of a ring, along with very sturdy restraints to hold the animal in place.