Walking in a field of cows safely – some tips you may want to remember!

cows in field below South Downs
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You are out on a walk in the great British countryside, enjoying the fresh air and taking in the fantastic landscapes, when the footpath you are taking cuts across a field of cows. How do you get from one side to the other without putting yourself in danger?

First of all, you must remember that cows are friendly characters in the main, but if they feel threatened then they will try to protect themselves, just as we all would. If they have young calves in the field with them, then that protection increases greatly.

If you enter a field with cows in, you may well find that one, or more, decide to come over and be inquisitive. They want to know if you are going to cause them harm, and being short sighted they need to come close. They may not mean harm, but due to their size it is not surprising if you became anxious.

Obviously if you are walking with a dog, then they feel that the dog may be a threat to their herd. It’s probably wisest to turn around and find another route if they come over to protect their young from your dog – surely it’s better to be safe than to cause harm to your faithful friend.

Of course, if the herd of cows that you come across are used to the farmers dogs, then they may be completely disinterested and not even move after casting a cursory glance.

From personal experience, we have encountered cows that took absolutely no notice of Paco, even if I felt a bit nervous of their possible reaction. On other occasions we have either been forced back over the stile we had just crossed, pinned against a fence by a lone protector, or charged by a whole herd (thankfully there was a fence between us and them as the footpath passed to the side of the field).

So how do you cross a field of cows safely? Take time to read these tips, although they may not always work, in the main they should keep you safe.

  • Don’t be “entertaining” to the cows – just walking through quietly and seemingly boring and they will probably ignore you. If you decide to run then they will come and chase you, as it looks like fun. Cows will tend to match their speed to yours, so if you run, so will they. Shouting at them will also encourage them to see what all the fuss is about.
  • Always keep your dog in a lead – dogs should be kept on a lead around all livestock, but quite often you will see people allow their dog off lead. Cows tend to see dogs as more of a threat than humans.
  • Walking towards the cows should stop them in their tracks – suddenly you will find that they are more scared of you than you are of them, and start to back away. This does take some confidence though.
  • If you have a stick, wave it above your head – this makes you look much bigger than they are, and they will become scared. If you have two sticks, all the better. Don’t prod at the cows though, as you will just be antagonising them.
  • If you are wearing a jacket, unzip it, fold it backwards and raise it over your head – again, this makes you look much bigger than them, although it may feel a bit daft.
  • If it’s a field you come across often, learn about the herd – do they get let out to graze often, or are they kept couped up most of the time. If they are in the field regularly, the there’s a good chance you will be of no interest to them. If they are only let out for a few weeks then there is more chance they will be a bit playful and inquisitive towards you.

Generally speaking, be aware of the herd, assess any risks to you, your walking party, and any dogs you have with you, and take the sensible approach to each individual situation.

Check out this article on crossing a footpath on a farm too!

What is the fear of cows called?

The fear of cows is called Bovinophobia (the fear of bulls is known as Taurophobia). Whilst you won’t come across cows in your normal everyday life, there is a fair chance that you will come across cows grazing if you walk in the countryside. If you do suffer from Bovinophobia can you link this back to something traumatic that happened back in your childhood?

How many people get killed by cows?

In 2015, an article by The Independent reported that in the previous 15 years there were 74 deaths caused by cows, but that 56 of these were farm workers. Of the remaining 18, all but one were lone walkers or two people, and all of these were with dogs. This reflects the threat that dogs may have in the eyes of the cows protecting their calves.

I think you can see that whilst there is little chance of being killed, a bit of common sense and knowledge about cows will ensure you don’t become a statistic.

Our own worst walk in cow fields

We took a lovely walk from Bodiam Castle in Sussex one summer day this year (2019), but we came across two fields of cows, one after the other.

In the first field, we spied a group of 4 or 5 walkers ahead, who had crossed this field with no problem. However when we climbed into the field, with Paco in tow, one lone cow came running towards us. At first we stared it down, thinking it would be afraid of us, but clearly it saw Paco as a threat.

So we decided to climb back over the stile quickly. The cow came right up the stile and let us feed it some grass and pet it, but there was no way it was going to leave the stile available for Paco to cross the field. We retraced our steps and found another route that brought us out nearby.

Once we crossed the busy road, we popped into another field with cows in. They looked up, but largely ignored us, and continued to graze. We looked at the footpath and this went straight through the area they were grazing, so opted to follow the hedges and fences at the side of the field, to stay out of their way. Obviously we were a bit wary from our previous experience.

All was going well until we reached the top of the field, about halfway through our journey, when one solitary cow came over. He ignored me, but pinned Nicky and Paco against the fence, next to a tree. For about 10 minutes he just stood there, and despite me trying to distract him so they could escape, his focus was not shifting.

After licking Paco and Nicky’s leg, which helps the cow get a better scent of them, Nicky eventually managed to slide by the fence far enough to where there was a gap into another field. From there we were safe, although he did follow in his field to make sure we were not coming back.

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