Let me ask you this: If I were to type in a Google search of the words "urban myths about cows," out of sheer curiosity what do you think would be the most common thing that would come up?
The answer: Cow Tipping.
I know there's a lot of stuff on the Internet about whether tipping a cow is factually possible or literally impossible, but I'd like to inject my own bit of common sense in explaining why cow-tipping is, in fact, an urban mythical legend.
What is "Cow Tipping?"
For those who don't know, basically it's this prank where someone runs up to a sleeping cow--this is supposed to be at night by the way, and for some dumb reason always involves a bit of booze--and pushes, or shoves, the animal over onto its side.
It gives rise to several very amusing misconceptions:
How did Cow Tipping come about?
I don't know the whole history of how it all started, but I do understand that it started around the 1970s and '80s, and basically it would have began when people had become further and further removed from the farm the longer they lived in urban areas. When they come to the country visiting friends or cousins, well that's when shit can hit the fan.
Cow-tipping--stemming from "snipe hunting"--can't come about without beer (or a bit of Jack Daniels), a pasture, some cows, and some really gullible city kid with over-confidence issues. Oh, and some country kids wanting to have a bit of fun.
So, what happens is that these country bumpkins convince this drunken kid into the possibility of putting one of those +1200-pound bovines ass-over-tea-kettle by sneaking up on them and then shoving them over. Easy-peasy, right?
They first have to talk the kid into believing that cows actually sleep standing up with their noses to the ground (not grazing), and thus would never hear or see him coming up to them. Because, sleeping cows are oblivious to anyone trying to sneak up on them, right?
Second, the country boys need to convince the kid that even though a cow is the same weight as a half-ton pick-up truck, she's more tall than wide which *technically* makes it easy to push over; just like pushing over a hat stand, or a right-angle triangle standing on its shortest end. Well, in a way.
Oh, and two more things. (This too is where the alcohol is such a big help.) First, the infallible confidence these boys (those ruddy country mice) is very important to be as convincing as possible; and finally, a bottle of Jack Daniels helps make you believe you can do anything: Hell, you can be Super Man the more you drink his alchemic brew!! (Screw Red Bull in giving you wings...)
I think you get the picture.
What will Really Happen...
In the mind of the confidently-stupid (and some don't even need to be drunk to be like that), the attack is successful: You run up to said sleeping cow so hard that she topples over in surprise, where she wakes up and takes off running, leaving you laughing and proud of your achievement, and your buddies standing at the fence with their jaws hitting the ground.
Except, in reality, the likelihood of that even happening is, well, unlikely.
Here's the thing: When you've had a few drinks, you're bound to be stumbling around like a fool making a whole lot of noise that any sleeping cow can hear. And when you're stumbling around in a pasture, there's cow pats, thick grass patches, and even a few rocks to stub your toes on and contend with, not to mention a few gopher holes to sprain your ankle in. The pasture doesn't even have to be muddy to be hard to walk in (or chuck full of thick grass, which is much more ideal!!). But woe be the drunken fool bumbling about in a dark pasture at night and ending up with a foot caught in a badger hole. Ouch!!
Basically, what will actually happen is that these "sleeping" cows will hear the drunken human fumbling about in the dark, and get up and mosey on out of his way. Some may stop and stare, until he comes into their "zone" where they just get the heck outta there. Some will just outright run away, especially if they're not used to being that close to humans, nor if they're all that accustomed to having a drunk guy stumbling about on their turf. That just leaves poor guy wandering around blindly in the dark wondering where those f@#$ing cows went.
If he actually happens to get close to a cow, a sudden burst of speed as he launches himself at said cow like a running-back football player could more land him face-first in a fresh cow pie than into the cow's side! I'm always amazed at how people don't realize just how quickly a cow can turn on a dime right from standing still. Those buggers move. (They'll kick out too, you know!)
It's easy for a cow to out-maneuver a human in almost any sized space (except where she can't move forward, backward, nor to the side). One, the reaction time of a cow is quite a bit quicker than a human, and this is primarily to do with their being prey animals. As a prey animal, a cow is hard-wired to fly first and fight later (called the "flight or fight response"), just like a horse or a deer.
All that targeted cow will do is let out a snort and launch both front feet a foot or two off the ground enough to swivel herself around about 90 degrees, and power herself to flee in this alternative direction, just in time enough so that the drunken dude can't even catch her by the tail! (If any luck, the tail'll just swat him in the face... if he's close enough, that is!)
The now-startled cow takes off at a full gallop for a short distance: A safe distance. Then she stops, looks back to stare at the idiot who tried to attack her, and watches him intently. She'll either go back to "sleep" (ahem, grazing) with one eye and one ear pinned on this untrustworthy bastard in case he makes another attempt to "tip" her again, or keep staring at him, then move off a bit more, then repeat until he finally gives up and goes away.
Either that, or the drunk dude will have to find another cow to try this trick again on. IF he can...
The thing is, this only has to happen to one cow to get the entire herd suspicious of this ridiculous humans' strange activity. Cows watch each other, and are fully aware of what has happened to their herd mate. Silently, they communicate among themselves (they don't need to verbally talk like we humans do) whether it's worth while to stick around, or if they should just gather up and move on out of there to find a safer spot for the night.
That's a huge caveat against the drunken man; even against those people who haven't even had a drop of whiskey, and come into some form of contact with the critters.
The herd mentality and dynamic is an unspoken web of keen awareness. It just takes one cow to get attacked in any form to get the rest of the herd on high alert, and suspicious of any kind of proceeding activity that may endanger them. There's safety in numbers for a reason, because it gives them a greater advantage to know and understand what's going on, and to decide as a herd what to do about it. Each bovine knows that what already happened to one of their herd mates could very well have a chance of happening to any one of them. Based on that knowledge, and possibly some form of body language and pictographic telepathy that we humans still do not understand (nor even consider as a possible form of communication), they are able to make a decision that is for the safety of everyone in that herd.
That's the beauty of a herd of cattle. They never think as individuals, they think in terms of the whole herd, as one big unit.
Even if the man (or kid) tries again to a different cow, there's an increasing chance that that cow knows what to do with him, and may be more likely to move away sooner than her other herd mate. (Of course, some cows aren't as smart as others, and some may still be a bit slower to get away than others because of their level of "tameness" towards people. Each cow has their own individual comfort zones towards the two-legged hominid species...)
In the end, I wish good luck to the drunken kid in trying to get another cow to perform his world-famous, Jack-Daniels-infused cow-tipping act on from the same herd!
Bust Those Misconceptions!
There are a surprising amount of misconceptions out there about why it's "easy" or "possible" to tip a cow over. Allow me to go through the most common reasons and bust them right open like a raw egg.
1. Cows sleep standing up.
False. It's the horses most well-known for sleeping (more going into a deep doze) standing up. Cows don't. They may have a light doze on their feet as their sunning themselves in the sunlight chewing their cud, or waiting out the storm, but they aren't having a literal sleep like horses do when they prop-up one foot and leave their weight on the other three.
Cows often sleep with their legs tucked under them and down on their bellies, or even splayed out if they want some deep REM sleep. That's how they love to ruminate and rest their weary legs after several good hours of eat, eat, eat.
2. Cows are made of stiff plastic...
Or wood or whatever. Basically, the premise is that cows are inanimate objects that won't move when you push on them.
Well, they're not made of plastic or wood or rubber or whatever man-made material. They're made of flesh, blood, and bone, just like you and me. They've got their soft spots and really hard ones. Their abdomens are always the soft spot, and the rest of their body--head, shoulder, hips, legs, chest--are hard and tough.
And they're certainly not inanimate objects.
Say you are standing beside a super-docile cow who has zero flight-zone around humans. Like, nothing; she'll come up to you for scratches and rubs and hugs and kisses. Now, try pushing on that cow, just from where you're standing. What do you think she'll do?
Let me tell you: She'll push back. Not with her head, but she'll lean towards you or spread her feet out just a little more to give herself a good brace against your own weight leaning on her.
Now, if you were like a 350 lb linebacker football player that was acting like he was exploding off the line towards that poor cow--sorry, my football jargon is crap--you might not, even then, get that cow to fall over. You might hit her pretty hard in the chest or stomach region, but she'd more than likely jump aside and then take off running in real fear. There is a possibility that may fall down on her haunches or front legs in surprise, but she won't go over ass-over-tea-kettle. It'll take a bit more force than that.
This makes a perfect segue for....
3. Cows can't run or buck or move fast and run away even faster.
Let me just put this video right here.
4. Cows are blind, deaf and stupid, especially at night.
If they can see you better than you can see them, then I think that's a pretty good indication right there that they have far better hearing and sight than you do at night!
Actually, cattle have great night vision. They aren't nocturnal by much means, but that doesn't stop them from being able to see and hear very clearly at night.
Cows have panoramic vision where they can see 300º around them; 360º when they're grazing. They are also partly colourblind; they can only see yellows and blues and very slight pink. They have what's called a "choroidal tapetum lucidum" in their eyes which allows them to see at night. When you see a picture (like the photo above) where the eyes of cattle are glowing bright white, that's the membrane in the retina that is reflecting light back to you. That membrane is what gives animals an excellent ability to see at night.
Cows also have very sensitive hearing. This is mainly an adaptation for being prey animals. Excerpt from the BEEF Magazine article, "Silence is Golden":
Cattle are able to hear a much wider range of sound frequencies than humans. Most young adult humans can hear sound in the range of 20 to 20,000 Hertz (Hz). In middle age, the upper frequency we can hear normally declines to 12,000-15,000 Hz.
As for intelligence, cows are smarter than you think. Check out this video:
5. Humans are super-duper strong!
Some are, not all. It depends on the individual.
See, most cattle are 1400 pounds or more. Average human weighs only 150 lb, closer to 200 lb for many males. Few that are muscular get more than that, and who can lift more than their own weight.
But to tip a cow it's not about lifting power so much as the force exerted by running at victim cow and shoving at the lower belly so hard that the cow supposedly goes over.
And the average human being doesn't have the power to tip a cow over no matter how hard he tries. Here's the math, again for the average person:
And, according to an article from LiveStrong.com "How Much Weight Can the Average Man Lift":
An effective way to evaluate the average's man strength is to look at familiar exercises that work multiple muscle groups. With this in mind, the average untrained man can squat 125 pounds, bench press 135 pounds and deadlift 155 pounds.
Let me put this into perspective: 1,360 N of force equals 305.7 lbs of pound-force. Not everyone can do that without being brutes of strength like Brian Shaw or Paul Anderson.
6. Humans are sneakier and smarter than cows, even when drunk.
For your amusement.
So What to Conclude?
Cow-tipping, without a doubt is an urban myth.
Not only is it fake, but it's really fake.
You just need to be around cows for an hour or two to understand just how fake it is!
Range Nerd, Forage & Grazing Fanatic and a Bovine Enthusiast. A love for farming, and for the soil.
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