Hiking Tips: Be aware of the dangers around cattle

By Doug Williams
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Hiking Tips: Be aware of the dangers around cattle

Doug Williams
 
Cows
Cows
 
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If you’ve ever stopped to think about the cow, it’s likely that you considered it a gentle, if a rather stupid creature. You may also have thought about it as the producer of milk from which we get butter, cream, ice-cream and so forth – and then forgotten about it.

While cows do not usually feature high on one’s list of interests, if you are planning a hike through a meadow, a wander along the hillsides, or to take a stroll through open cattle lands, it is time you started to think more seriously about cows!

Statistics show that over the last 15 years, there were 75 recorded deaths in the UK caused by cows. In the United States, the estimated figure of deaths per year caused by cows is 22. The majority of these fatalities can be blamed on aggressive bulls, cows defending their calves and the presence of dogs which agitated the animals.

Mostly, cows are restful animals, going about their daily business of grazing, contentedly chewing the cud or caring for their calves. Since most cows are fairly used to people, they are unlikely to attack unless they feel threatened in some way or are protecting their young. However, before becoming too casual about these creatures, remember that a fully grown beast can stand about 6 foot tall at the shoulder and could weigh more than 2000 lbs!  Remember that a lot of them have sharp horns and very hard hooves, with which they can gore, throw, kick and trample. Bulls can become very aggressive, particularly when surprised, when cornered, when feeling threatened or when a personable (bovine) female attracts him.

The best rule about walking through fields of cattle is to avoid doing so!  That, however, is not always practical.  So, when one has to cross a field full of cows, here are some sensible things to keep in mind.

Carry on

Cows are not able to see straight ahead of them because of where their eyes are placed, so make sure they know you are there
Cows are not able to see straight ahead of them because of where their eyes are placed, so make sure they know you are there

Firstly, continue on your way, behaving normally, walking quietly and calmly along the hiking route. Allow the cows to see you and know that you are there. Cows are not able to see straight ahead of them because of where their eyes are placed, so make sure they know you are there, and as you get closer, that they respond to your approach by slowly moving out of your way. Continue to talk to them as you quietly and confidently approach and they will probably amble off, not at all concerned by your presence.  Should the cows actually be on your particular trail path, calmly wave your hiking stick and encourage them to move by speaking in a normal voice, but keep calm and act authoritatively and non-threateningly.

Avoid calves

keep well away from any calves, especially the newly born
keep well away from any calves, especially the newly born

Do ensure that you – at all times – keep well away from any calves, especially the newly born, (spring and early summer are the major breeding times) for the mother cow will instinctively protect her young calf. Also, however cute they may be, resist the temptation to pet cows and calves, for you will be courting trouble.

The right path

Should there be no established hiking trail in the area, behave in the same manner as suggested above.  Before you decide to avoid crossing any cow-filled fields, first be careful to look around you and assess the terrain, especially if you do not know the area. You could well be putting yourself in greater danger by finding yourself facing cliffs, rocky or steep climbs or very difficult, unknown terrain – all in an effort to avoid the cows.

Be careful with pet dogs

Cow and dog
Cow and dog

If you are walking with your dogs, they must be kept under control. If they are not obedient to your commands they had best be kept on a leash. There have been so many attacks by cows as a result of their being surprised, disturbed, chased or noisily approached by dogs. The cow’s usual reaction is to rush towards the dog – which sometimes includes the dog’s owner too!  In a dangerous situation, it is better to let your dog go free and to get yourself to safety.  A dog is generally able to look after itself as it is able to move more quickly and to run much faster than the cow.

Be calm

Since they are herd animals, cows are mostly encountered as a group and may often come towards you in that group, for they are quite curious creatures. Most cases of hikers being injured by cows occur when the hiker moves too quickly or behaves noisily and aggressively through fear. It is best to stay calm, to carry on walking quietly and steadily, without any quick, nervous movements – and to try to pass around them. Once they have established you are not a threat; they will usually lose interest in you and carry on with their main interest – grazing!

Eye contact

Cow
Cow

However, if you do come upon an aggressive cow or even a threatening group of cows, continue to move calmly while keeping your body facing the cow, however frightening it may be – do not turn your back on them and do not run! If this aggression turns into a charge you need to use your hiking stick (or something similar) as a weapon. Don’t wave it about and shout, which may aggravate the beast even more, but be quick and sure and give the cow a hard blow directly on the nose (a very sensitive spot for the cow) in order to deter it.

Be in a group

As always, whenever or wherever one goes hiking, it is much more sensible, and far safer, to be accompanied by a partner or to be part of a small group. This is especially true if you plan to hike in an un-routed, remote or unknown area. If you are unfortunate enough to land in trouble, your partners can support you and can usually help you out. When moving through fields of cows, make sure that all of you stay together so that you appear to be a larger ‘being.’ It is advisable for all of you to adopt the same careful, calm, attitude while moving through the cows, and to ensure that you all know how to react in a similar manner should you encounter troublesome beasties.

They can jump

As a final thought, did you know that cows can jump? Well, they do and they can manage to get over fences or gates with relative ease, especially if they are excited for some reason.  And why should they not? In the words of the old, traditional nursery rhyme the cat had the fiddle but it was the cow that jumped over the moon!

Cow
Cow

With that in mind, it is worth being sensible when walking through a field of cows, and remember: Be Aware and Take Care!

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