The recent tragic event of the vet who was killed by a herd of cows whilst walking her dogs and the injuries sustained by David Blunkett as he walked his dog, highlight the need for a greater awareness of what to do when walking in a field of cattle especially when you have a dog.
I was listening to the Radio 4 Farming Today podcast the other day and they advised that if you encounter cattle whilst walking:
- try to walk near to a hedge or fence so that you can get close into the hedge if need be.
- don’t run as the cattle are likely to start running as well and they can run fast.
- stay calm so as not to spook the animals.
- stay quiet.
- keep any dogs on a lead so you can control the dogs.
However, lets just clarify the situation when walking with a dog. It is sensible to keep the dog on the lead whilst walking through the field, as the herd may be dispersed across the field and you can keep the dog under control and away from the cows. The problem occurs if a cow sees the dog and reacts to the threat of the dog. One of the first signs that a cow is becoming agitated is that it will lift its head up and look alert. It may then start to nod its head. Nodding of the head is a sign of aggression and it is advisable to slowly retreat from the cow, watching it all the time. It is recommended to release your dog from its lead if there is a danger of the cow attacking. The cow is most likely to feel threatened by the dog (rather than you) so releasing the dog will separate you from the dog. Most dogs can run much faster than a cow and you can try to distance yourself from the dog. If a cow starts to nod its head and come towards you then it is likely to be already in very close proximity to you (probably less than 10 metres) and so you will not have much time to take action (probably less than 2 seconds ).
People often feel in danger from a herd of cows when walking across a field and the cows start to follow them. The faster the person walks/runs, the faster the cattle will chase behind. Attacks tend to be from a single cow that has become aggressive and not from a whole herd of cows. If a whole group are trotting behind you then it is likely to be inquisitiveness. In this situation the only danger is if one of the animals inadvertantly kicks as they pass by or gets over excited as they trot up to you. Just turn around, jump up in the air, wave your arms in a star-jump style and shout at the herd. This will stop them from running towards you and temporarily disperse the group of cattle. Then slowly walk towards the closest hedge or boundary feature where you can safely get out of the way.
I mentioned that cows can kick. In fact they can kick very hard, but it is usually only when they are frisking and frollocking about and are excited. They kick with their rear legs and kick out sideways, up to a height of about 1.8 metres. They tend to kick as they run past a person and sort of twist their bodies around. If you imagine a cow running past you and then pivoting on their front legs and kicking out sideways then you will realise that they can kick out some distance (2-3 metres). So if one runs past you, try and keep a good distance away from it.
We keep cattle on our farm and as I have not been brought up with close access to cattle, although I think they are beautiful creatures and on the hole docile and placid animals, I am still wary of them as they are such big creatures and all animals including humans, can behave unpredictably.
If I have to go into any of our fields with cattle in, then I always make sure I know where the cattle are and where I can get out of the field if I need to. As I move about the field I make sure that I always have one eye on the herd’s location so that I can keep a check of their movements and behaviour.
It is always a good idea to check if the cattle are grazing with a bull and to be aware of where the bull is. If a cow is in season and the bull wants to mate with the cow then the bull and possibly other cows will be trying to mount each other and cattle leaping up into the air can be an added danger that you need to be vigilant of.
It is usually cows with new born calves that are aggressive/protective. The cows instinct is to protect the calf at all costs and an unknown human and a dog are seen as a threat to the calf. Even when the calves are growing and are more than a week old, it is important not to get in between the cow and a calf as the cow will still be protective towards her calf and doesn’t like to be separated from the calf.
The North York Moors National Park has a leaflet giving advice about walking with dogs on the North York Moors which you may find useful.