Inspired by the thread on horse behaviour I thought I’d start a similar one for cows as I’ve just had a couple of scary (to me) situations out on my run.
I’m a bit nervous around cows anyway after having to hide behind a large tree and then make a hasty retreat out on a run in NZ a couple of years ago when one of a number of cows stood on the forest trail I was on (sharp drop to the left and steep bank to the right so no way round) started making obvious aggressive moves in my direction after a short stand off. It turned side on, was hoofing at the ground, rubbing its head in the dirt and snorting in my direction.
Out today on my long run, somewhere I’ve not been before in my local area, my GPS line had me cross a field full of (lady) cows. I opted to skirt the edge of the field walking, the cows I passed closest were eying me up, none made any moves in my direction or gave any aggressive signals but none moved away. Incident free but very glad to get out of the field.
Later in the run my route had me cross another field (marked for public right of way) with some smaller variety of cow. This seemed to be a couple of families. 4 adult looking ones and 4 young ones. 2 of the adults had horns, I’m assuming males . Again, I opted to walk the perimeter of the field. As soon as I entered the field they all stopped grazing and stared at me. After about 50 meters (I was probably 100 meters away from them and not walking any where near in their direction) they all started trotting over lead by the horned ones. It wasn’t a full sprint but it definitely wasn’t a walk. I didn’t notice any aggressive body language or anything that could be interpreted as a warning before they started coming over. Terrified, I turned and ran and managed to vault myself over a low barbed wire fence into a thick bush and bushwhacked through to a church grave yard. When I made it to the gate I should have left the field by, the cows were a few hundred meters away. I tested the water by stepping over the sty into the field, immediately they came running over again so I made my second retreat and continued on my run.
Did I do everything correct in these situations? WWYD? Both were on public rights of way. In the first field is there any reason to be nervous? Was I unnecessarily scared in the second field or justified in being a total wuss as there were young cows present?
In the first case, with a steep and unavoidable drop on one side, I'd be a bit nervous too, both for me and the cow. In an open field I've never had a problem with just walking through them confidently, trying to look boring and as though I wasn't carrying any cow food and saying "shoo ladies" if they came too close.
Always best to be a bit wary about cows considering that they will always win if they do decide to have a go. Older female cows tend to be ok, though any with calves are best avoided just to be safe - they are the ones that will pose a risk. Any bull in a field with a footpath should be one that's ok with people but a lot keep them out of such fields to be safe.
'Teenage' cows, for want of a better term, tend to be curious, hence them wandering over to you. Running away probably made them more excited.
Once when I was walking in Derbyshire, I came over a col to be confronted a few hundred yards away by a group of several dozen cows. As soon as the nearest cow saw me, he started walking very fast straight towards me, rather aggressively, and all the other cows followed. Being unsure what to do, I stood my ground and I extended my left arm straight up in the air, and my right arm straight out to the right, with the palms facing forwards, just like a policeman directing traffic. The line of cows continued coming straight towards me pretty fast, because fast walking cows are actually going surprisingly fast. When the lead cow was about ten feet from me, it suddenly veered off to its left, exactly as I was indicating with my hand signals, all all the other cows followed. That's the only time I have ever done this, so I have no idea whether that technique would work in other situations.
> 'Teenage' cows, for want of a better term, tend to be curious, hence them wandering over to you.
I've become much more wary of cows in the last few years, they are rather big and whether they mean harm or not, YOU are going to come off worse.
Fields full of 'teenage' cows, probably bullocks who are headed for the dinner plate but don't know it, seem to be very prone to just charging across their field as a herd - they may just be curious but you certainly don't want to be anywhere near them.
On open terrain with cows around I tend to do several things:
If I'm not happy to cross, I'll go round the edge. If I'm not happy to do that I'll detour all the way round the "outside" of the space and rejoin beyond the other side.
I don't have a dog, but if you do, it makes everything worse because the dog is much more likely to be seen as a threat. Keep the dog quiet and close to you on a lead as long as the cows are happy, but if they're not, the advice is something like... If you do feel you are getting cornered and feel at serious risk then remember this, you cannot outrun a cow yourself but your dog can. Let go of the lead. 99 per cent of the time the cows are chasing your dog and not you at all. They will follow the dog.
I’m hugely wary of cows too having had a couple of accidental moments of being between mothers and calves. In general I’ve found cows to be inquisitive rather than aggressive and that talking to/ at them helps keep everything calm(probably more me though), especially if they then realise you are not the farmer with some tasty snacks. All that said, if I do spot mothers and calves in a field I don’t go into the field and will find another way instead.
99.9% of cows are just curious, clumsy, fools. The one with horns could identify as a girl or boy, it likely wasn't de-horned/budded when younger.
Stay on the edges, if they are moving at pace or you feel they are coming too close too quickly, wave you arms up a little calmly in good time, say from 25 to 50m. They can't stop or turn on a dime, but don't know this, they don't deliberately charge over people.
The only cows I'd be wary of would be don't approach a mother with young calves deliberately and what appears to be a single cow in field, it's more likely a bull. (Many many bulls are completely harmless and have no interest in people).
If you don't like the look of a field no normal farmer would mind if you hopped a fence without damaging it and walked around the edges of the adjacent field/hedgerow.
My dad, as a lad in Latvia on his way home from school, took a short cut across a field, with a bull in it, it took exception to this and charged him. Result, dad had a couple of scars on his head and a tale to tell his mates. He grew up on a farm too, so should have know better.
As others have said they're mostly harmless, but the law of big numbers and the sheer size of a cow means if they do cause problems it can be serious for some people. I've always been pretty wary of them to be honest.
Me and the wife were walking our border collie (on a leash) along the Thames near her family home in Oxfordshire thinking we'd go for a nice quiet riverside pint. She had grown up around these fields and was blasé about passing through a load of cows until the whole herd got curious and came towards us (not charging as such, but moving with purpose as a group) en masse. We had nowhere to go but the river and ended up half in the water and half sat on trees wondering what to do, with a huge herd of cows facing us off. We sat there until a bloke from Thames water came along and started banging his clipboard to scare them off, but his casual face changed when he noticed a couple of bulls at the back.
When we first moved to France we had a big meadow and the local organic dairy farmer had a herd of just 12 cows (individually named, really well looked after) and would graze them in our meadow in the summer so we got quiet used to them (they all have horns, even the ladies).
Now we live in a different part of the Alps and the mountain behind our house every year puts 2-300 young cows out to graze every year and they're pretty playful with each other, but because of the thousands of hikers they're pretty used to people and I've got pretty used to just running straight through most times. Was once up at the top though when they were play fighting together and it got pretty sketchy and had to make sure we were out of the way.
Walked across a path through a field to get to Burbage boulders last winter, no animals to be seen.
End of day, sun just gone down at this point so headtorch on, go to cross same field and behold, totally blocked by a herd of cows. Had to wait some time for them to drift away from the path just enough to make a slow and cautious crossing to the car, often having to navigate off the path into very soggy and uneven ground.
Definitely felt like a whimp, but being squashed to death alone in a cold, soggy field at night would have been a poor end to an otherwise good day. I'm sure with the boulder pad on my back I cut an unusual silhouette and wasn't sure whether they'd be startled. They did begin to close in as I got to the stile. Definitely not ideal.
Saw a very good sign on this out yesterday on my run, nearly took a photo for use with local Scouts and now I wish I had... the gist was well-aligned with my understanding...
- Bulls are what people worry about. An aggressive bull shouldn't be on a right of way, by law. Most bulls just want to smell the flowers (cf. "Ferdinand the Bull".) Nonetheless, take care.
- Cows with calves: don't mess with that. This is the situation where the cows will mean to kill you, rather than killing you by accident. Go around, stay away, whatever. I mean, it's perfectly possible to cross a field with cows and calves, but I would urge caution.
- You have a dog ? This is how most people get killed in the UK - the cows are trying to defend themselves against what they see as a serious threat, the dog is kept on the lead and the dog/owner get trampled. Let the dog off the lead. It will save itself and the cows will not be interested in you.
- You are downhill of cows ? They are curious, friendly creatures and come to see you. The ones at the back want to see you too, and the whole lot don't stop very easily and you get squashed. They didn't mean to flatten you, but you end up flat. Consider staying uphill, preparing to be assertive before forty tonnes of beef get momentum.
Beyond that, look and sound reassuring and slow-moving, don't charge through the middle, be calmly assertive ("Shoo ! Go on ladies ! Fsst !" - wave arms, look determined) and all should go well.
Don't run away. They'll be curious and you'll end up at the gate/stile/whatever with an awful lot of moo-cow failing to stop behind you. That's if you don't slip and fall over and... oops. Trampled.
These are my conclusions from living in Staffordshire for a few years, observing a thirteen-year-old farmer's son (one of the Scouts) and running with a dairy farmer's daughter. She is wary of cows with calves.
Yesterday's (solo) run was a cowfest. Met a herd just back from milking or something on a narrow track. Two thirds went past me happily, the other third despite my best efforts ran away from me. Eventually passed them at a wide bit. Then a field of young bulls who were curious to meet me but not very motivated, and I'd given them plenty of space. Then a field of young with I thought a couple of mothers, all uphill of me, I stayed well away at the field margin but frankly didn't have any great options (highish electric fence plus hawthorn hedge) and that was all fine.
This advice is worth exactly what you paid for it.
An ex of mine told a tale of being on a beach on a Greek island when a few playful cows came to have a look at him. Being a town lad, he took fright and legged it into the sea. He was deeply embarrassed when a little girl of about five, showed up and shooed them all way and beckoned to him to come out.
I grew up in the country, I don’t deliberately seek out bovine encounters, but generally, if they aren’t bulls or cows with calves at foot, they are just nosey and will move off at a bit of arm waving.
All of my running is off-road and I often go through fields with cows, horses or sheep in them.Mostly without incident. A few weeks ago I went through a field with cows and a few calves in it. I walked through, close to the edge, and didn’t get anywhere near the calves. One of the cows let out a half-arsed moo but that was it. On the way back I gave them a really wide berth but this one cow took a dislike to me and ran at me with its head lowered. I punched it in the head and shouted at the same time. It stopped in its tracks and I managed to get away. I doubt that the punching made much difference to the cow - it felt to me like punching a cement mixer (I imagine), but perhaps the over-all assertion that I was in charge helped. I can’t remember what I shouted, I was too scared, but in previous encounters I have shouted “the power of Christ compels you”.
In conclusion: just don’t enter a field with cows and calves.
I've had some close encounters with cows myself over the years. They really don't seem to like loud noises. I'll tell you the amusing story of how I found that out. Back in 2000 following the amazing solstice celebration, I was walking through a field near Stonehenge carrying a large djembe (W African hand drum), like you do... There were about 100 cows in the field and before long they had cornered me against a fence. In my wisdom I tried to scare them off by beating the drum a few times. Barely even a flinch from them. A few moments later, the entire herd turned tail and ran to the other side of the field about 100m away where they stopped and faced me. The relief was short-lived however when, all at once, the whole herd came charging back at full speed leaving me no choice but to hurl my drum over the fence followed by myself into a dense holly bush. The cows continued butting up against the fence leaving me no choice but to fight my way out through the holly. I think I got off lightly with only a cut on my hand and a broken drum skin.
A few years later I was again in a cow field with my drum (the stray in York) but this time I was playing it when they came and completely encircled me which was pretty scary tbh especially once the bull came closed enough to sniff my drum skin (goat). Thankfully they let me out but the same thing happened again when I tried moving to a distant part of the field.
My last tale was earlier this year, no bongos this time. Walking though a large field which had a mixture of sheep with lambs and cows. The cows didn't seem bothered by me and were some way off. One sheep panicked when it saw me, the rest being sheep, followed suit and the whole lot ended up running across the field. The thing is though that they were smart and took cover behind the cows. The cows got all riled up by the commotion the sheep were causing and seemed to decide attack was the best form of defense and I ended up having to run for it. They were smart enough head me off so I ended up hopping a wall/fence combo. 3rd time I've been chased this year!
My advice, if you see a whole bunch of cows run away from you, take your chance and run as they might be taking a run up!
Leg it uphill if you can. I assume that cows can run uphill, but in my experience they usually can't be bothered. I'd probably feel the same if I were that size.
> My dad, as a lad in Latvia on his way home from school, took a short cut across a field, with a bull in it, it took exception to this and charged him. Result, dad had a couple of scars on his head and a tale to tell his mates. He grew up on a farm too, so should have know better.
I have always fancied trying my hand at a veronica or two in this situation. I should probably resist the urge ...
Cows of course are insatiably curious, and so would you be if you had to spend your life in a fenced field instead of roaming the savannahs,
Padaidh is very proud of his fan club.
Dr Temple Grandin advocates lying down in a field of cows, shown at the beginning of this documentary.
Dr. Temple Grandin - The Woman who thinks like a Cow
I've always wanted to try it. Has anyone done so?
Yes… at a campsite in Buttermere. Woke up to heavy breathing .. opened the inner to face the input end of an Ayrshire
Did that in the 70s camping across from the glen Nevis yha, open the zip, 4ft pair of horns munching grass right in front, is it a boy or a girl? Careful peak underneath 😁
Do you recall the scene from all creatures great and small, taking their first bull semen sample, and warming the contraption, and misunderstood and warmed it with boiling water. Cue, furious bull.
Don't think I saw that one, sounds like a winner.
Ever put eye drops in a bull? Guaranteed fun and games.
> Definitely felt like a whimp, but being squashed to death alone in a cold, soggy field at night would have been a poor end to an otherwise good day. I'm sure with the boulder pad on my back I cut an unusual silhouette and wasn't sure whether they'd be startled. They did begin to close in as I got to the stile. Definitely not ideal.
I normally take the boulder pad off my back when going through cows as it does seem to have an effect on them. Which is not surprising really - if you're walking towards them it must look a bit like you're staring then down with your head low before your shoulders - which is an aggressive posture for a cow.
That said, while cows closing in behind you feels unnerving, it's perfectly natural if they're feeling a bit curious. As long as there's no agressive posturing you can just ignore then at that point.
I've always heard that one should run downhill if chased by a bull. Bulls can't run as fast downhill as uphill and can't turn fast if they are going downhill because their momentum carries them onward. So, the trick to escape is to run downhill and then suddenly turn to left or right. I did this once in Scotland and was able to jump over a wall to safety.
There are some good farmers video's on line - there is a Farmers Guardian one that I think is good from 2019 (https://www.facebook.com/page/45093379305/search/?q=runners). Perhaps have a look at some of these. Particularly they recommend not running fast and slowing to a walk if you are getting any attention and not shouting or making a lot of noise.
> I had always been cool about cattle in fields, understanding their curiosity and herd instinct (and just avoiding cows with calves), but you never know which idiot has been through the field before you, possibly with a yapping or chasing dog in hand and as I jogged up a footpath in one field in rural Leicestershire a couple of years ago I was suddenly aware of several bullocks (about a year old I guess) looking very wild eyed and stampy as I passed. I slowed down, kept calm and then they took off towards me (and of course all the others followed). So with about 10 yards to the stile and 30 head bearing down, I ran. I still don't know if that was the right thing to do, but something had right upset them before I got there. I definitely did not feel the 'Stainforth' technique was appropriate!
Bullocks can get excited for all sorts of reasons - they may just have recently moved fields and been in an exploratory mood - anything that excites them increases their curiosity. As a kid, I used to go fishing a lot in fields that went right up to the river edge. We'd cross from field to field as we fished, and at some point half way through a field get spotted by the herd, which would come charging if in the mood. The main issue with a large herd is that when the ones at the front get close and try to stop, the ones behind keep pushing them forward for a while. Best bet was always to walk towards them and wave arms/rods to intercept them early, then walk backwards towards the water while they tried to stop. Otherwise, everyone ended up in the water.
I watched that video posted above, and its useful, although he clearly has more confidence than me, especially as its his own herd.
I regularly run with my dog and one time I left the dog at home, and ran through a field on the outskirts of Sheffield that sometimes has Cows in, but recently it hasn't. This one time it did have cows, loads of them. No bother I thought, the path goes close to the wall, but most of the cows had congregated there, so I slowed down and walked past them. I noticed some cows and calves, tried to avoid walking between them but was quite tricky. A number of cows started walking towards me, but to the side, as obviously the grass was better, when I noticed the lead cow was a bull. Probably a safe combination but I was more than happy to get out of that field!
Another time I was doing a night run around Kinder and noticed loads of eyes reflecting back from my headtorch, I thought that those sheep were tall! As I got closer I realised that it was about 15 to 20 cows and was unsure how they'd respond to the light, thankfully they just ignored me.