Animal Attacks!

3 07 2014

More and more I’m reading in the news now, and on the various walking forums, about animal attacks on hikers – mainly cattle attacks. As a ‘countryperson’ who has lived alongside livestock all my life, I feel I can possibly offer some advice. DISCLAIMER: Of course, as with all advice, it won’t always hold true in every circumstance especially as, when dealing with animals, moods and personalities come into play just the same as with humans…

General
First of all, my opinion as to why livestock attacks are on the increase isn’t anything to do with ‘something in the water’ or the air or suchlike – I personally feel it’s happening more often simply because more of what I would call ‘townies’ (racist term, I know ๐Ÿ™‚ ) are coming into the countryside than were 10 or 20 years ago. I have no intention of being offensive but I do think that most of the problems are with people who are nervous of livestock as they are not accustomed to dealing with them.

Animals pick up on fear so it should be remembered at all times that “you’re the boss” otherwise they will try to get the upper hand and, with something big, you definitely don’t want that!

Cows
I’ll start off with cows as they seem to be the most feared and maligned. Most cows are good-natured and peaceful beasts but, as with us all, they do get their moods and all have different personalities. Some cows are downright bullies and you will see them bullying their fellow cattle in the absence of any walkers to worry. As with all bullies, your only solution to this is to stand up to them. I know they’re bigger than we are (and certainly stronger/heavier), but essentially, they are prey animals with the ‘flight’ instinct and are, deep-down, afraid of us. Don’t believe this? try walking up to a cow and giving her a pat – you won’t get near her!

Of course, if a particular cow is in a bad mood, that makes them forget they’re afraid of us and they may well run at you. The way to tell a ‘cow-in-a-mood’, apart from her being the only one running at you, is when her head is down and she is bucking as she chases towards you.

Anytime that livestock are starting to worry you, it is best to graduate towards the side of the field where, if you don’t win your particular argument, you can retire as gracefully as possible over the fence. In the moody cow’s case, in addition to graduating towards the field boundary, when she gets a bit nearer turn to face her, advance/run towards her, throw your arms in the air and shout at her. I’ve had the odd cow still approach right up to me, stop and then try to butt me – in that case, all you can do is slap her hard around the nose – they hate that! If you’ve made it to the field boundary, they can’t knock you down or trample you. The part in italics above can generally be used to stop a whole herd of approaching cows, although stopping and facing them is usually enough.

Cow herd behaviour depends on several things – one is whether you have a dog with you, another is the type of cow, and further affecting factors are the weather and time of day. Also, cows with calves can naturally be defensive and jumpy – if you need to cross a field with cows and calves, don’t walk towards the calves and, preferably, go well around them all. In bad weather, all animals become jumpy, especially before a thunderstorm (but then, so do I!)

If you are crossing a field with a dairy herd (‘black and whites’ in the UK), if it is one of their ‘lively’ times of day, they will invariably rush at you in a mad bunch. That’s their entertainment. If you watch them with no persons in the field, they often rush around in a mad bunch anyway. Dairy cows are well fed on high-energy food or very good quality grass and so have lots of energy to burn off. After-milking is one of their livelier times as they’ve lost that heavy milkbag which had been weighing them down and are more able to prance around.

The dairy cow’s day pretty much goes like this: a stroll out of the field very early-morning for their first milking and a quick feed of something nice. Back out to the field where they catch up on grazing. After a few hours of grazing, they will sit and chew their cud (further digesting the previous grazing) – at this stage, they won’t get up for anything! If it’s a sunny afternoon, they often lie down anyway and refuse to bother with anyone – unfortunately, we don’t get too many of those in the UK. Around tea-time they go for their second milking, another dishful of nice food, and then back out to the field. I find this is when they’re at their most lively.

I often ‘play’ with the local girls and we have a mad dash around the field. You have to know to turn to face them well in advance though as a whole herd of cows takes a lot of stopping and the back ones cannon into the front ones, keeping them going long after the front ones have decided to stop. Same goes for if it’s muddy…

‘The Girls’ coming to greet me…
Girls1

Girls2

They initially stop about here…
Girls3

But then they just have to have a closer look ๐Ÿ™‚
Girls4

Dairy cows are almost always friendly and curious and are quite intelligent. I’ve put them to use before now to avoid the bull if he is in with them. I just sit on the stile at the field entrance, wait for the girls to come over and surround me, and then stroll across the field in their midst. The bull will then ignore you – he can’t get to you anyway and he’s more interested in his girlfriends. One warning though is that a dairy bull is considered far more dangerous than a non-dairy breed so you need to be careful.

Sitting on the stile and waiting for the herd to come over and then walking across the field is a good idea if you’re spooked by herds running at you anyway – that way, they follow you at a walking pace across the field when you set off and can’t get any speed up to mock-charge you.

All bulls need to be treated with respect of course. They will sometimes be found in a field with a footpath – usually a non-dairy bull. If you do see one, make sure you keep very close to the field boundary, don’t look directly at him (that’s a challenge), but keep a surreptitious eye on him as you cross. If he gets too interested, I’d look for a way over the fence/wall.

Beef cattle are more impoverished and much quieter apart from the fact that they are often herds of bullocks (young lads). Young lads are always a problem if they want to be so keep an eye on their mood. But, bullocks being grown for beef are usually castrated (calms them down) and young enough to lack confidence. These will sometimes run at you but can usually be put off pretty easily if you face up to them.

Walking with a dog through any field of cattle will produce results – and probably not the ones you wanted. Have your dog on a lead by all means but, if the herd (or an individual) makes a run for you, let the dog off the lead – he can run much faster than cattle and get over walls quite easily. If it’s a fence and he can’t get over – well, he’s due a lot more exercise than you originally planned ๐Ÿ˜‰ The cows will tire before he does…

Horses

New Forest palomino
New Forest Pony

These are potentially MUCH more dangerous than cows! They are extremely well-armed at both ends – a bite from a horse can penetrate through several layers of thick clothing and do major damage – a kick will easily break your leg. One thing a horse will never do is trample you – they simply won’t stand on anything live and squirming – it gives them the creeps! They will stand on your foot however if they feel so inclined and they find it very amusing – they go completely deaf and numb when they do and ignore any amount of shouting or pushing to get them off! Obviously they don’t do this to people crossing their field, just people dealing with them in some way, e.g. grooming, saddling…

I usually keep the field boundary pretty near and escape routes planned when crossing fields of horses or ponies I don’t know and, to be honest, I’d far rather not cross them. Most horses are quiet enough but the same comments about moods and personalities as for cows applies but with better attack weapons. A lot of horses won’t see you as ‘boss’ unless you’re their owner.

Whatever you do, don’t feed other people’s horses. That just causes problems for the next people who come along and don’t have some food for them. It can also cause you problems when you run out of food for them too!

Geese, Rams & Goats
Geese are pretty scary as they come right up to you with their necks stretched out, hissing loudly. However, I’ve worked in my field alongside the wild geese and, while the gander has come up to try to intimidate me, I’ve ignored him and he hasn’t actually carried out his threat yet. I think they are generally all talk.

Rams nowadays don’t seem to be a problem. Don’t know why as I do know people in the past have been chased and butted by them. They just seem lazy and laid back now and are generally lying around in the field all day or eating and ignoring you.

Goats aren’t often encountered in Britain really but it doesn’t have to be a billy to be trouble. There is a pygmy goat in the field next door to my house and she’s a complete b*tch! If I ever have to go in the field she doesn’t lose a moment – she’s straight there butting me constantly as hard as she can. If I simply have to cross the field, which sometimes I do, my only option is to grab one of her horns and keep hold until she calms down. Beware of a sprained wrist doing this though as they can fairly twist about with very sudden movements and are quite strong. To be honest, a goat’s butt won’t usually do an adult major damage but it is uncomfortable and annoying.

Gafr-King of the castle
I’m the King of the Castle!

Pigs
I wouldn’t ever cross a field of pigs given a choice. While generally okay, they have the potential to be very dangerous and aren’t afraid of people. The last time I walked across a Lakeland fellside and discovered pigs blocking the path through the bracken, I was pretty worried. As I passed by the pig blocking the exit route, I weighed up the size of her mouth in comparison to my thigh – it would fit in very nicely thank you – very nasty. Luckily, she was fine and didn’t bother me.

All you can do if you do have to pass them, is keep very calm – that pretty much applies to any animals – if you’re afraid of them, they know it and may well attack – fear means you’re no longer the boss.

Hope this helps… if it doesn’t, I’m afraid you’ll have to resort to telling whatever bolshy creature it is that you’re on a footpath and have every right to be there! ๐Ÿ˜‰

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18 responses

14 08 2014
ness64

Very interesting insight in the behaviour of the various potentially dangerous animals walkers might encounter!

What you are suggesting makes total sense (not showing any fear/behaving like “the boss”), but I’m just not brave enough for that… I really start panicking when I see cattle on the path and if I can’t make a detour around them, I try to be “invisible” by avoiding eye contact and passing them as quickly as I can, trying not to stumble over my own feet and just praying they’ll leave me alone.

Besides, I avoid areas of which I know that there are cattle around…

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14 08 2014
mountaincoward

I suppose, with the walking you do, you’re probably in a more open area and can’t walk along ‘the field boundary’ or whatever? If you’re in a field and feeling worried, don’t hesitate to keep around the edge of the field. The farmer is unlikely to be cross if he sees you off the footpath but obviously taking a wide berth around his cows – he’s more likely to be amused!

In fields, it is a great idea to enter the field but stay at the entrance, let the cows see you and decide whether they’re going to bother coming to see you or not. If they don’t come to investigate you at that stage, they will probably completely ignore you if you give them a wide berth as they’re obviously in lazy mood. In that hot weather in July, I couldn’t get our local girls to come and see me at all – too much effort!

If you see the long-horned Highland Cattle you get up there though, they really are the most placid of beasts and I’ve never known them to even follow people – they usually just either ignore you or lazily watch you.

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14 08 2014
ness64

If they were behind a fence, that would be fine – I would just walk around the field. But up here it is mainly Highland Cattle, and they roam freely in some glens, so it’s not always possible to avoid them. I’d love to do the Killilan Corbetts, for example, but I can’t because of the cattle in Glen Elchaig ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

I know that they are supposed to be friendly/harmless (although they are the scariest-looking ones!), but there have been incidents with them as well.

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14 08 2014
mountaincoward

Were the incidents people with dogs though? I’ve passed the Elchaig Herd (and bull) quite a few times and they’ve never bothered with me at all – they were just heads-down and grazing throughout and wouldn’t break off at all!

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15 08 2014
ness64

I remember reading about an encounter with a Highland Cow and her calf in a TGO Challenge blog from 2013. Within a few minutes, two Challengers were attacked by the same cow in the forest in Glen Garry, and there was definitely no dog involved.

Even if that’s an exceptional behaviour, it’s enough to terrify me!

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16 08 2014
mountaincoward

There was a calf involved though. Maybe the huge influx of people into the area passing by due to the challenge was freaking the mother out? But, like I say, you can never trust any animal 100%

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4 07 2014
bob

Good post Carol. Might be caused by more people going into the countryside that are unused to livestock as you say.. or with dogs. I usually give cows with young a wide berth anyway just in case and we smuggled a small dog past Highland cattle with young in a rucksack twice. Got chased by two stallions in Italy once on a wide open alpine meadow but foxed them by heading for a boulder strewn area where they couldn’t follow easily. Cows and horses don’t like tricky or steep ground so that’s another way to escape them.

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14 07 2014
mountaincoward

You’re right about horses not liking steep or stony ground. I once fell off my horse on the Airport Beach on Benbecula – I just watched it gallop off back towards camp but knew it would stop when it had to cross the stony beach to get to the dunes – it did and a guy caught it for me. I was so mad with the horse though that, after he’d waited about half an hour for me to trog all the way back along the beach, he said “I’ve caught your horse for you” and I just snapped “You can have it” and continued past! ๐Ÿ˜‰
Carol.

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4 07 2014
fedup

My personal opinion is that cows shouldn’t be kept in a field that is crossed with a public right of way. No other business/industry would be allowed to bring the public so close to danger without various warning signs and six foot fences. I understand that the actual number of ‘cow attacks’ are very small but if the public have a right to walk across a field they also have a right to do it safely without any fear!

I’ve heard pigs can be used to dispose of dead bodies – this may be an urban myth so don’t quote me on it!

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4 07 2014
mountaincoward

I think that might just make farmers more anti-walkers though if they had to keep all their footpathed fields cattle-free – and there’d be a big reduction in permissible rights of way too I think.

That’s horrid about the pigs but I can imagine it. They used to be fed absolutely anything when they used to get pigswill from places like schools and restaurants.

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4 07 2014
fedup

Carol, sorry I didn’t mean bar cows entirely from the fields just have a single strand of wire around the field boundary providing a ‘safe haven’. Although fencing off the footpath would just mean splitting fields in two, if accompanied by hedgerows it would be good for wildlife. I’m sure there would be a EU grant available, currently you can get a grant to cut down an established woodland, fence it off then replant!

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14 07 2014
mountaincoward

Or they could just use an electric fence I suppose as people do for horses. But that would mean I’d have to climb over to chat with them ๐Ÿ˜‰

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4 07 2014
hazeymoxy

Brilliant piece. Thank you. The husband and I encountered our first herd of cows years back. Being true city dwellers – we don’t even have fields in singapore – we panicked and made a hasty retreat out onto the street. We must’ve looked pretty lost and uncertain ‘cos someone pulled up and he said: “Oh, they’re OK. Just cross the field!” We couldn’t and so our walk ended way before we reached the end point ๐Ÿ˜€

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4 07 2014
mountaincoward

I’ve seen quite a few people do that and it seems a shame when they’ve set out for a walk in some nice countryside!
Carol.

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3 07 2014
McEff

Hi Carol. There’s some really sound advice in that piece and much of it I adhere to already, being a bloke who grew up in the country around cows, bulls and bullocks. I didn’t realise that horses were among the bad guys so I’ll steer clear of them in future, but I’ve always been suspicious of pigs since my granddad told me about a pig he reared in his garden during the war which would bite your leg off if you went near it. Apparently they used to feed it on coal, among other things, so it could crunch through anything.
Thanks for an interesting read, Alen

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4 07 2014
mountaincoward

LOL – he used to sharpen it’s teeth on coal! Bet that kept people off his property!

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3 07 2014
smackedpentax

Absolutely great post and well reading Carol. I think you are right about more people mean more animal attacks. I always look out for animals whenever I cross a field and keep away from them if possible. Like you say most are fine but there is the odd one who can be ‘curious’. I know an old farmer who once told me (after several pints) that is a bull attacks you stand perfectly still and look him straight in the eye. At the last minute he’ll swerve away…yeah, I’m going to do that ๐Ÿ˜‰

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3 07 2014
mountaincoward

me neither!

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