Walking through fields with cows: how to stay safe - Invaluable walking hints, tips and advice for UK walkers, hikers and ramblers
Unfortunately, the hazards or otherwise that can be encountered when walking though fields where there are cows has been in the news again recently (June 2009). One of the incidents reported has tragically resulted in the death of a walker, Liz Crowsley on the Pennine Way.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) figures released recently showed that 18 people have been killed and 481 injured by cows in the past eight years.
Since the Countryside and Rights of Way Act (CRoW) was passed in 2000, the HSE has urged farmers and land-owners to consider the level and type of public access on their land and to take this into account when planning where cattle should be kept and the precautions that should be in place. A spokesman for the NFU commenting on the recent fatality said:
" ..... millions of people walk through fields every year and attacks on members of the public by cattle are extremely rare.
Our advice to walkers is if you have a dog with you, keep it under close control, but do not hang on to it should a cow or bull start acting aggressively.
If you feel threatened, just carry on as normal, do not run, move to the edge of the field and if possible find another way round the field, returning to the original path as soon as is possible. And remember to close the gate."
It seems that the biggest risks are:
- walking with dogs
- walking near cattle who are with young calves. Their natural instinct is to protect their young - and you (especially with a dog in tow) - may be seen as an especially big threat.
So - if you are with a dog, avoid going through a field with cows at all. Although it may be inconvenient, it's probably better to consider finding another route. Be especially vigilant if you find yourself with your dog in a field with both cows and calves.
Even without a dog, try to keep quiet and move away calmly and out of the field as soon as possible. Try not to surprise the cows - remember that their line of vision is to the side and not straight in front.
If cows get too close, turning quietly to face them with arms outstretched is considered to be the best approach.
If you are involved in an incident or are hurt you should contact the HSE, the local Rights-of-Way officer and the police if the incident is serious.
Whilst the countryside certainly isn't a playground, a few simple precautions should mean that we can all continue to enjoy it and farmers and land-owners can get on with their work too.
For more information on walking near cattle (and bulls):
“I do think farmers/councils need to consider alternative paths when bullocks occupy a public footpath. Walkers are generally quite harmless so why all the aggressive fencing making it difficult to choose another route? All the posts above are near misses, but there have been deaths, so this is not a negligible matter.”
Vivienne Cox, London
“I grew up in the countryside and as a child would play in the fields full of cows and pet them. Now however, I am terrified about walking in the same field as one. It has caused so many arguments on holiday as we love walking and I regularly refuse to finish a walk when encountering cows! I agree that the land does need to be grazed but wish that land owners would use sheep on coastal footpaths. It is clear from other readers comments that this has become a major issue amongst walkers.”
Mary Mills, Stafford
“Do you have prices to find another route around the field but if you stray off the path/right of way is this not Then trespassing ?”
Brian Morrell, Lincoln
“My boyfriend and I are in our early 20s and we regularly go for walks via public footpaths and come across cows. We often just walk past them fine even with tiny calves the mums stand up as we come past but so long as you don't stop and stare they don't seem to consider you a threat. We made the mistake once of walking through a heard of young cows once instead of round them and they all followed us, we would turn around and they would be right behind us. I had to tell my boyfriend not to run so we didn't alarm them, we just kept walking and didn't stop and they stopped following us in the end. It was very scary though! Similar things have happened whilst walking through public fields with horses in, massive horses too 😳 they saw us coming and went to the road/pathway through the field and stood in the way. I kept walking round the horse giving them a wide bearth but my boyfriend Slowed down and the horses came right up to him we didn't know what to do! I find its best just to walk through confidently and not let animals see you're scared even if you're bricking it!!! And don't start running... unless you're being charged at!!!”
Emma , Leicestershire
“I used to walk alot through contrysides with me and my friend. Once we saw a heard of cattle being transported from one field to another and that was scary they were very tall and as mesmerised as i was i was a little scared. Only one time i was with my friend and we'd not long come into a field there was this animal that id never seen before. It was black and had horns it wasnt massive but he was just looking at us. I didnt want to chance it and go past him. I actually tried to remain calm and got my friend to stay behind and slowly eased myself out of the field. Nothing major happened but she did say once that she was with another friend when she got charged by cows but i cant remember how she said she got away but she did...”
Katie White, Redditch
“Walking with cows now terrifies me - I won't do it anymore. I had to throw myself and my dog in a river to escape a stampede recently. It's true what the other commentators have said, their aggression levels are much higher, and I too agree that the hormones added to their feed must be the reason they've changed. Gone are the days when you could carefully walk around their field, they'd look at you then carry on munching grass. Not now. They look at you and moo their mates for support, then they go for it! And considering how big they are, they can fair leg it! I remember watching a TV documentary about a woman having hormone injections of testosterone as part of her sex change. She commented on two stark things about becoming a man, first was on a sexual level, the second was about how much more agressive she was. My walks are now marred by these once lovely animals, especially as medical help is often so far away and mobile signals can be sketchy. I think consideration now needs to be given to fencing off the footpaths where public rights of way are through cattle”
Laura Gargett, West Yorkshite
“I have had lots of encounters with cows and bullocks. Similar to those mentioned above. I have also felt that there has been a change in their behaviour and part of me thinks they were much more placid when I was younger (I'm 45). However, when I was 8 I was charged by a lone cow with calf in Cornwall. I was on a lane walk down to a beach and its calf emerged from bracken and charged past me into a nearby field. Next thing I saw horns coming out of the bracken and a huge cow emerged. I realised I was stood between her and the calf. The cow charged towards me and I bolted into the field and threw myself into nettles and brambles. When I popped up she was snorting and scraping and the exit to the field meant approaching the cow and calf. Managed to scramble over a Cornish hedge and get out safely. I believe that was a dangerous encounter but most of my other run ins have been with skittish bullocks and young cows. No less frightening admittedly. A friend and I were running through a field (was out on a run) of bullocks by the river Weaver. The herd was about 30 strong and they all gathered together and charged at us. I was terrified and think we were too far into the field to turn back. Asked my friend what we should do and he said, carry on running. The herd continued to run at full pelt towards us and then at the last minute with metres to spare they all came to a dead stop and watched us run by. My heart was pounding. I think a lot of the behaviour is curiosity and playfulness. One gentleman on here said the behaviour calmed down in May. This makes me think of something a farmer told me. They have been cooped up in a barn overwinter and are suddenly let loose in a field. They are excitable and curious about everything hence the crowding and skittish behaviour. I hate going through fields of cattle but make myself do it all the same. Often it's just not practical to take a detour. When cattle have "mobbed" me I just maintain the most direct course to the stile out of the field walking calmly. I have never needed to spread my arms or use a stick. I'm always glad when I get to the other side.
Another reason I may be noticing this behaviour more now is now I'm older I spend more time in the country walking now I'm older. Rather than at pubs and clubs with mates. Therefore more encounters of the bovine kind!”
Vaughan Edge, Cheshire
“Following on from the previous threads I too have noticed increased aggression from cattle when crossing or even passing feilds either with or without dogs. I have a couple of very scary incidents with catle charging towards me and having to take evasive action. I do a lot of rural walking and geocaching and it is fast becoming a way of getting an adrenaline fix! A few years ago I would confidently walk through a herd of cattle but not any more. Aggression seems to be the norm these days. They behave like overtired kids that have had too many e numbers. Before entering a field I always check for cattle and avoid entering even if that means a detour and some wall scrambling. I use a GPS and put a way mark on the path further ahead so that I can get back on route as soon as possible without trespassing too much. So far I haven't had any hassle from land owners but I would be happy to defend myself. There is definitely something different to a few years ago, I understand that farmers need to use their land and the safety of walkers is probably not their primary consideration (they probably prefer we weren't there in the first place) but I think there needs to be greater awareness of the risks and some reasonable steps to keep people safe.”
Paul Hesketh, Skelmersdale
“Nearly got trampled to death by cows recently after attempting to go through a public footpath with cows in the field. It's all the hormones they are pumping into them. This issue needs to be raised in government and legislation needs to put in place against this dangerous and growing trend.”
David Jones, London
“A little while ago I was walking part of the Leicestershire round, a long distance footpath, with my wife and three young children. When we were nearly back at the car we found we had to cross a field of cows. Halfway across they saw us and ran towards us. I placed myself between the cows and my children and the (female) cows came up and jostled and shunted me with their heads. They reacted to the little people in the same way as they act to dogs trying to chase them. I found myself battling the buggers with hands and stick. I don't blame anybody or anything. It just scared me. The real shame is that I m not taking my children across the fields again.”
David B, Leicester
“I am inclined to agree with G Hayes, high levels of the testosterone hormone is well known to be a cause of aggression both in animals and humans. If this hormone is being pumped into our animals to increase muscle mass, it will indeed have an adverse effect on their behaviour. A well known psychology experiment involving pregnant rhesus monkeys were injected with high levels of this hormone, their female offspring challenged males for dominance and showed highly aggressive behaviour in play. Surely the farmers would have been advised by their vets of such repercussions?”
Fiona Deckker, Plymouth
“Would be interested to know when the last posts about cows were. I am a regular walker and sometimes take my son with me. I have noticed an increase in aggressive behaviour in cows over the past 2 years and had a couple of worrying incidents. In February '13 I was walking near Blackburn and the route took me through a field with three bullocks in it. Although they were the opposite end of the field to my route, one decided to charge. I only just saw it out of the corner of my eye, and yes in shock I screamed, which seemed to dissuade him, but he came back for another go. Thankfully I wasn't alone and between us we managed to deter him and get out of the field in one piece. Later the same year a heifer took a liking to us up by Beacon Fell and only by managing to remain calm was I able to get my son out of the field. In August last year while walking Hadrian Wall we had traverse a number of fields where cows were grazing. Some I chose to alter the route, others didn't really have much choice, but strangely these ones just watched as we crossed the field. We even had to stand there and debate what to do for approx 10 minuets until a calf moved off so we would not have go between it and it's mother. Has there been any research into this type of behaviour?”
Carol Cartwright, Blackpool
“Hello, 1. The change in cows behaviour could be two things, first the rapid decline in dairy milk demand which is an excellent thing to say the least, means that a lot of the cows reared are for meat only, males. 2. The meat market is competitive and farming less lucrative than it used to me with a lot of demands for 'quality' and 'quantity' at the best price, the density of cows in fields rises, the hormones they pump into the cows while alive is beyond belief and the effects on the cows has not been considered - only thing considered is does it pump up the muscle mass'. My educated suggestion would be this level of hormone injection in any animal, even the human animal, would lead to behavioural changes. My dog and I were escorted off a field by a beautiful large bull, it was snorting and kicking its feet, but instead of turning around, or running, I pulled the dog into my leg on leash and commanded 'get in' in low tone, the dog knows to drop low and go slow and be tight into my leg, I had a large walking stick (branch of a tree) that I placed high under my arm pit sticking out at the back so that if it charged I would feel it getting closer, I looked down at the ground and did a steady, linear walk to the exit, as I work with dog, the importance of smell and heart beats can not be under estimated - keep your breathing steady - a raised heart beat signals a threat, and you sweat more and this adrenaline stinks to an animal and again signals a threat. So stay so calm, don't look at it, give it the desired behaviour which is to move away from its territory, but in your mind, always plan an escape should it charge you - in my case all along the 10 minute nerve wracking walk as it snorted behind me, I had my eyes to the left of me, trying to find a low spot in the fencing to throw my dog over and me to follow. Another thing I heard / herd (excuse the pun!) is if face to face with bulls, and no escape and the inevitable is upon you, nothing to lose, take the bulls nose ring as it makes them sensitive and lead them to where you want to exit then release the bull. Never tried it, but this is what I read .....”
G Hayes, County Durham
“I am used to walking past cows on Beverley Westwood but when doing the Minster Way this weekend I was walking from Stamford Bridge to Kexby along the River Derwent. It is a long stretch of fields and a number of times a herd of Bullocks came running up to me, I tured to face them and they scattered but then followed me sneaking up behind me and I had to shout and touch one with my walking pole, it was very scary and the field was long. I didn't come to any harm in the end but would be worried about having to do the route again.”
Sheila Button, Beverley
“Just to agree with most of the comments so far. My wife and I walk every Wednesday and this year we have had cows run at us on several occasions. I am always very wary and seek a way out before entering the field if possible. generally now I find a way round them, even if this means climbing over barbed wire fences or walls before regaining the track. Better safe than sorry”
Dave Hedley, Chesterfeild
“As a cow-keeper, the best advice I have seen to date was from a farmer on the BBC News website: Cows are curious animals, with or without calves, always take a walking stick with you, be confident, talk firmly to them and if they get too near stretch your arms and walking stick outwards to fill the maximum area (cows join up all the external points and so you suddenly become massive in their eyes).”
Sally-ann Jay, Greenham
“Try American range cattle. They will charge the cow ponies when the ranch hands ride up. Growing up in the western US I learned to treat all livestock with caution. Aggressive horses can usually be run off by waving a jacket and yelling at them - but depending on your local law, you could be responsible for any injuries. I wonder if the animals approaching is a result of more hobby farmers who make pets of them? People forget that a cow can seriously injure you in play or affection as well as in a deliberate attack.”
Nadja Adolf, Newark, Ca And Wellington, Nv
“Yesterday, we received a bit of attitude from a dozen young cows in a nearby field. I was walking along the public footpath and they came racing up. I have never had trouble with cows in fields before, and waved and shouted at them to back off, which they did, but I think it annoyed them. I certainly wasn't going to turn and run as I had to protect my own offspring (grown up daughter). Gradually, we all calmed down and I walked out. I went back this morning to check on them and sure enough, they were young bulls [bullocks]. I've heard that milk production is in decline in Britain which means any "cows" you meet are more likely for meat production and more likely bulls [bullocks]. Look carefully before shouting at them.”
Jim Oswald, Lutterworth
“Hi - I avoid all cows now, if I come across fields with cows in I will always find a way round them, and then return to the path. This is because I have had a number of occasions when whole herds have just charged at me - and can't they run, and have had to do some quick exits and high jumps over fences and walls. I don't have a dog, and usually walk alone. I treat them with great caution and respect, and go round them. I have spoken to a number of cattle farmers about this, and they find the cows behavour odd and can not explain it.”
Steve Heslop, Manchester
“I agree with Tim in the last section. I have walked the hills of northern England for 40+ years but only this year have I encountered cows with attitude. Following a footpath in Weardale, through a field of 20 - 30 cows (I didn't hang around to count them thinking back) distributed pretty widely across the field, I found myself the sudden focus of a few and then all of them. It all happened rather quickly but they effectively ran at me from all available sides. Fortunately the path followed the edge of the field bounded by stone wall which probably 5 feet high. I didn't wait for the nearest cows to reach me but effectively walked up the slope of the wall and jumped off the top to the surprise of the sheep in the adjacent field. Amazing what adrenaline can do. The scariest part was the way they then marauded up and down the field as a herd for the next 10 minutes mooing loudly and looking like a scene from a 1960's cowboy TV series. I decided not to insist on my right of way and made my way around the said field. I didn't have a dog with me, there were probably bullocks in amongst the herd, I don't remember seeing calves.”
David Dove, Stanhope
“My husband and I have been doing walks in the countryside for the last ten years and have never had any problems with cows, but this year we have had two bad experiences one was in a field with some youngest cows who were some distance from us and we just walked to the right of them when one started bouncing towards us for no reason so we moved away then they all followed and penned us in against the fence when we had to climb over barbed wire to get out. The second incident happened this week in Finchdean when being wary of our previous experience we walked along the edge of the field as the cows were all near the stile we had to get over and one of them looked over at us and then they all about 15 or so quite large cows came charging over to us we ran back from where we came and were able to get over a bit of fence that was near the ground. I don't think we will be going in any fields with cows as we were not annoying them at all.”
Yvonne Walder, Southampton
“Don't go to Crichton Castle, a mediaeval relic in countryside south of Edinburgh [if you really do not like walking through fields of cows]. It is in the middle of a field that routinely has cows in it. You can't park any closer than the gate into the field, where there is even a sign telling you to close the gate because of the cows. There are 600 yards of walking track through the field to the castle. It even spirals round the castle before reaching any entrance and the cows graze right up around it. Yet this is a paid for staffed attraction run by Historic Scotland. It's publicity says nothing about the cows at all.”
Joseph Bloggs, Lothian
“My love of rambling through the countryside with fellow walkers might finish soon due to my increased fear of meeting up with our bovine friends. i recently had to depart from our group when a group of young bulls came up to the stile and crowded the area we were to pass through. If anyone writes a guide book of 'cow-free' walks I would be delighted.”
Dorothy Clarke, Parbold
“I must admit I am a little aprehensive when walking through fields with cows in. For instance we walked the East Highland Way this year and the path was blocked by 2 massive Highland Cows with the massive horns, they are really big animals and there was not way we were going to disturb them even though they were in our way. We decided to give them as wide a berth as we could which did mean walkin on unsuitable ground and crossing some ditches, but my theory was in view of their size that they could have the path !! I must admit I was very glad to get out of the field. I do take a lot more care now since hearing of a couple of deaths a couple of years ago.”
“Hi I am interested in this discussion as I have noticed a change in the cows behaviour this year. I was born on a farm and spent most of my early life playing in fields with cows around. I have been walking through fields of cows for many years, but this year for the first time ever felt threatened by the cows, I have no dog and have always been very confident in a field of cows ( Not when in a field of horses I might say). Anyway around April time i was in a fiield of Heffers and one was particularly interested in me, we walked along togethar and I chatted to her and hoped she would get bored and wander off ( Normally the case when I engage young ladies in conversation!) but she was not going anywhere and got between me and the exit to the field. If I moved right she moved right if I moved left she moved left. She started mooing and looked really miffed. Anyway I eventually got out. (10 mins). For the next couple of weeks I found that every field I went in the cows would run/stampede towards me so had several quick exits and different routes. Then this behaviour stopped about May and no problems since, could this have been the dry hot weather impact ? None of the fields had calfs, and the reaction from the cows was more than just interest. Wondered if anyone else noticed this year was different.”
Tim Kemp, Grimston
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