Are cows really that scary? Or is it just up to our own personal perceptions?
For myself at least, I can understand how cows (and cattle) seem rather terrifying to most people--even if I'm one who's been around cows for as long as I can remember. They're big, tall, and "completely" unpredictable.
With heads the size of a human torso, a shoulder-height of 5 to 6 feet (some taller), and hooves bigger than a man's fist, and the kind of behaviour that is anything but that similar to a dog or cat, it's not surprising that folks can get afflicted with something I tend to call "bovinophobia."
I find though, that (my own estimation, no scientific study has been done) probably 90% of scary experiences most people have with bovines is largely to do with a serious misunderstanding of bovine behaviour and psychology, not size and stature. Cows don't think or act like cats or dogs do. Cows don't even think like a horse, let alone a human! Cows are awesome at thinking like cows. But we humans really suck at thinking like a cow. And it shows.
Thankfully there's the modern technology invention known as "video" and an equally cool website to watch these videos on called "YouTube" to catch both bovine behaviour, as well as the stupidity of, and misinterpretations by us humans.
I thought I would give some commentary to six different videos of "scary cows/cow attacks" instead of giving a boring lecture on bovine behaviour and psychology most people probably wouldn't be interested enough to get past the first two paragraphs of. (If you've gotten this far, congrats! I hope you'll find the rest of this post equally enthralling.)
Here's the deal: My commentary will deal with what went wrong, why, and what the people involved could have done to make things better for both them and the filmed "attack" or "scary" cows.
My hope is that by doing so, I give you a little better understanding of cows than when you first came here.
And I'm saving the best (most scary) to the last.
Video 1: "Girl Scared [by] Cow"
This big Holstein cow has no apparent attempt to hurt this poor lady, despite the lady's crying and calling for help. Of course, for the girl who more than likely has never been around cows this size this close before, is absolutely petrified. I feel for her.
The only "escape" she has is--or thinks she has--is behind the door, because to her she's "safer" there because she can't see the cow... at least at first. But then the cow comes wondering in, sniffing away and curious at what's in this tiny room the girl has confined herself to. As the cow slowly makes her way in, the poor girl behind the door is being squeezed by the sheer size and weight of this cow, until she finally lets out an even louder scream. The cow starts slightly, and backs out, much to the girl's relief (if only slightly).
Fear can make a person do irrational things. That cow, without even realizing it nor even intending to do harm, could've, for whatever reason, leaned into the door the girl was behind, trapping the girl and causing her injury. Not only that, but the cow could've came all the way into the little room (especially if the girl didn't let out a louder shriek like she did at that particular moment), and then got trapped with her sheer size to the point that even she starts panicking a little trying to get the heck out with this human screaming in her sensitive ears.
I know the girl *shouldn't* have gotten behind the door--she really would've been a lot safer on the other side of the room the door was on--but again, fear causes irrationality, which is understandable, so it's no use to critique the lady's actions when she only did what she thought was right and safe.
Video 2: "Mad Cow Attack (extended cut)"
I had a good laugh at this video. What a great display of bovine intelligence and human stupidity!
These steers really behave just like a big group of teenagers without adult chaperones to keep them in check: They're rambunctious, playful, curious as anything, full of energy (often feeding off each other's energy and excitement), and it doesn't take much to get them motivated to go for a gallop with their herd mates.
Basically, and hilariously so, it's really a result of high-energy teenagers of one species getting to interact with as-energized teenagers of another species!
I have some more reasons I had a good chuckle at this video:
Some of the comments are comic gold. Most people were calling them "cows" (as in, mature female bovines), some even thought those critters were bulls! The truth is, though, after closely analyzing the video, all of these pesky, playful and spunky critters were steers (castrated male bovines).
Right at the very beginning, nothing was working in those two boys' favour. Before they even turned on the video camera, they were already quite anxious, scared, excited (not exactly in a good way), tense, and in anticipation of bad things that were going to happen to them. This could be felt (at least to me) right through the screen, and heard in their voices. Their testosterone-hyped excitement and attempt to taunt didn't hide their fear either, not from me, nor from those steers!
Their dreading reminded me of a couple of quotes: From Bud Williams: "If you think something bad is going to happen, chances are it will." And from Dr. Murphy, originator of Murphy's Law: "Anything bad that can happen, will happen."
Basically these boys were creating what they feared. And it was all because they were scared themselves.
Cattle are no different from other animals in their ability to unquestionably mirror what a person's feeling. These steers were doing exactly that. They were playful and curious in intention, but were also mirroring the boys' perceptive fear and anxiety; so those steers also started to behave anxious, tense, and (somewhat) afraid.
Honestly, if these city boys weren't city boys, but country boys instead with no fear of these cattle, the scene (and the resulting title) would've been much, much different. So different that it wouldn't have landed on this blog post!
At the very beginning, one of them asks, "Why are they coming closer to us?" and the other says, "[They think] we're gonna feed [them]." Which is absolutely correct. The other reason is that they are curious. I've had steers come up to me when I get out in their pasture all the time and it's both because they think I have treats and they're just wanting to see what I'm up to. Those interactions are the kind to enjoy
But when it comes to making the choice of backing off, or hell even running away? Bad idea! It certainly didn't help those two.
I've read some "advice" on the Internet that claims when you encounter a cow, you should back off or walk away. I'm here to tell you that not only does not help, but is poor advice to follow. When cattle are already accustomed to following a person on foot because they have been taught that they will get something to eat that way, a stranger doing the same thing will just encourage them to follow.
The best way, usually, when encountering livestock and they approach you in the way they did with those two boys, is to just stand your ground, and make yourself look big. Hands on your hips, feet splayed out parallel to your shoulders. Don't stare directly at the animals, sometimes that can be interpreted as a challenge. You don't need to look down, you just need to look anywhere except in their eyes. Doing this is often good at getting those animals to lose interest and move away, so long as you actually stay there until they lose interest and move away!
If one gets a bit bouncy and wants to play, don't take that as a sign to run away, instead get loud, fearless and aggressive and charge at them. Your mindset really helps: You have to intend to be intimidating and something that bovine doesn't want to mess around with! You can't be half-assing it and "hoping" it will work. No, you have to mean it. Cows can tell the difference between intention and hesitation. They'll take advantage of you so fast if you give them any kind of hesitation or sense of being unsure. I'm not kidding. This video is direct proof of that.
Those boys were hesitant and and totally unsure of themselves, their surroundings, and those animals. Those steers could tell! Steers don't need to understand what humans are saying to be able to read body language incredibly well. Same with cows; same with bulls.
In the end, I think those city boys had better stay in the city. They had no business getting into the pasture other than to create the trouble they deservedly received. They got what they came for. They had no clue about bovine behaviour nor psychology, and it showed.
And the black Pinzgauer-cross steer? He delivered beautifully.
Video 3: "Terrifying footage of a cow attack on a busy bridleway"
See the video via this link: "Walking the dog? Beware cows on the rampage: Farm animals found to be far more likely to attack humans if they have their pet with them"
With the terrified man shouting his throat hoarse and that damned dog running free, it's no wonder those cows were riled up.
But apparently, "scientists are needed to to figure out why people who are walking their dogs are more prone to attacks from cows." Seriously?! I think it's pretty obvious why!
First of all, it's no "theory" that cows are hard-wired, like other wild ungulate cousins, to have strong maternal instincts enough to feel the need to protect their young. In order to survive in the wild, and even in domestic settings where people do not have control of everything all the time, females must protect their young in order to ensure these young survive and continue on to procreate themselves; all this to ensure the survival of the species. If it means pounding the snot out of a dumb dog, so be it.
Second, these scientists are not exactly correct in that owners are trying to protect their dog from the ferocious cows, though that may be part of the reason. Rather, dogs see their human guardians as sources of safety, so they will instinctually run to their humans for protecion--even if they have a herd of infuriated bovines hot on their heels!
This is why I do not wholly agree with the article's suggestion that, when walking dogs out in a public pathway with cattle on it, to have a dog off-leash. This actually gives those dogs a perfect excuse to run off and chase and harass livestock! That is another topic for another day, but it's one that really gets under my skin. I really hate it when people let their dogs chase livestock because it's "funny" or "cute," when it's anything but "funny" or "cute."
Anyway, sure being off-leash will give the dog freer ability to escape and take the cows' focus off of you, and certainly appears to work for your own personal safety, but let's get real folks: That dog can and will run right back to you for protection if it feels like it can't outsmart or out-run those angry cows. Besides, not all dogs can outrun a herd of pissed off mommas!!
I think I remember seeing a YouTube video of a man who actually did have his dog off-leash on a public pathway with cattle in the pasture he was walking his dog with through. You know what happened? That dog certainly got the cows' attention, and got chased after, but he came running right back to his owner with his tail between his legs! And that poor man, he had to jump the fence to escape the cows that were chasing--and trying to do harm--his dog, which was just wanting to escape the cows and go to who he felt the safest with!
So, scientist people, please tell me again how having dogs off-leash is going to "help" anything...
You know what my suggestion is? If you have a dog, stay the hell out of where the cows are. Even if you have to go off the beaten path for a ways. It's better for both you and the dog--and the cows.
Video 4: "Charged by Cows"
In all honesty, the videographer was in no danger. Nor was she even being charged at. Instead, they were just following her out of curiosity, and because they've learned to associate people walking with food... probably because someone have been spoiling them with treats!
The only reason those cows were even walking and following her was because she was deliberately moving away from them. If she didn't move away and stood her ground instead, they would've stopped too, and eventually, after about five minutes or so, moved away to find something more entertaining to do.
Just like with the two boys of Video 2, moving away from approaching cows is not a wise choice to make. It just entices them to follow. Her nervousness didn't help matters either, which was the sole reason for her choice of moving away instead of standing her ground. She basically perpetuated her own fears.
Video 5: "The cows are following me. Silly cows."
Silly cows indeed. You can hear that the videographer has a dog with him, which is most likely why those cows--heifers more like--where following the pair.
Naturally, yearling heifers have a bit of a playful attitude at times. They mean well. Since the pair are on the other side of the fence, they're definitely safe, and there's nothing to be worried about. This is more entertaining, and rather sweet, to see than anything.
Video 6: "Crazy Jersey Bull"
The title describes the situation perfectly: Jersey bulls ARE crazy. They're super aggressive, they'll attack anything that they think is a threat to their harem (their girls), and are no laughing matter. You never want to f*ck around with a Jersey bull, let alone trust one. They can kill you.
So, why are they so nasty? Two things:
1. As baby calves, they're typically raised on the bottle by humans, so they become quite accustomed to and fearless around humans. Thus. when they get older, they don't see humans so much as "predators" to be feared and stay away from, so much as "part of the herd," so to speak. That can mean that a bull will see a human as a rival of their girls. When that crosses their mind, they're all about issuing challenging and intimidating behaviours, from growling and pawing the earth to displaying their side, and finally charging.
2. Genetics are at play here. Because Jersey cows have been selected for excellent-quality milk and lots of it, and for femininity, the unintended consequences begets the selection for testosterone-hyped, hyper-masculine bulls. Jersey bulls certainly don't look as masculine as many beef bulls do, but their behaviour is 10x more the macho-male-bovine than most beef bulls tend to possess! That makes them much more protective, more sexually promiscuous (I would think), and more prone to see just about anything that moves as rival to their harem. All of that is part and parcel of what makes them so bloody dangerous.
Of course, they don't mean to be nasty, they're just doing what comes instinctually and naturally per their hormones and genetics. So you can't blame them for being the nasty buggers they are without even trying. But just remember, for your own personal safety, respect them for the dangerous animals they are, never trust them nor allow yourself to get complacent around them, and keep your distance from them as much as possible.
There you have it! Six videos demonstrating different situations of scary/not-so-scary cows and cattle. I hope by know you understand that it's often the misunderstanding of bovine behaviour that can make cattle seem scary. In fact, bovines deserve the utmost respect and admiration for the beautiful, and rather peaceful beings they truly are. As a matter of fact, in many situations they don't need to be feared.
Yes, there's no doubt that cattle are bigger, stronger, faster, and smarter than we think. They can be so smart that they make us humans look rather foolish. Truly, there are many, many things we could learn about cows and cattle, if not only from the cows themselves. All we need to do is open up to let them teach us what we really need to know about them.
Range Nerd, Forage & Grazing Fanatic and a Bovine Enthusiast. A love for farming, and for the soil.
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