How To Walk Across A Field With Cows Safely

cows at the gate for a walker

Cows are very curious animals and very rarely hurt walkers. However the sight of a herd of cows running towards you, even if you are behind a gate, is terrifying. The lightest common breed is a Jersey that weighs about 450 kg when fully grown. At the other end a Brown Swiss is about 800 kg. Cows are very muscular compared to humans so it’s natural to be very scared if a herd is stampeding towards you.

Even though incidents are rare it’s best not to take any chances. It can be annoying if it blocks a circular root but if you don’t feel comfortable then go back the way you came if possible.

Some less scrupulous farmers do deliberately put aggressive herds in fields with footpaths to deter walkers. Cows are protective of their calves and can attack if they feel their calves are being threatened.

There is a risk from cows, but considering the millions that use footpaths each year this risk is low. Cows are the most deadly large animal in the UK, however three quarters of fatalities are farm workers. 70% of deaths are from newly calved cows or a bull and the vast majority of deaths of non farm workers are dog walkers with one or two people present.

Tips To Cross A Field With Cows

  • Make yourself as large as possible; put your hands out to your side and wave in order to make you seem larger.
  • Move slowly but assertively forward, don’t run or look them in the eye.
  • If cows get too close turn to face them, stretch your arms to the side and say “GO ON BY!” firmly and confidently. You can also give them a firm but gentle shove if they are crowding.
  • Always have an exit route. Stay close to a hedge if possible and in the worst case scenario you can jump through / into the hedge.
  • Don’t surprise the cows as this can cause them to become aggressive. Remember that a cow has peripheral vision and not frontal vision. The diagram below to shows a cow’s field of vision and blind spots.
  • Find another way around, even if this strays off the footpath – but do return to the footpath as soon as it’s safe.
  • Try to wave them off, especially if you’re at a gate and can jump back to safety. If they back off it’s a good sign that they will leave you alone. Also try bashing a stick on a gate to get them to back off.
  • If you have a dog with you and there are calves in the field then find another way around or turn back. They will protect their young if they see a dog and it is not worth risking.
  • Keep dogs close to you on a lead. If the cow starts to get aggressive or charge let the dog off the lead and make your escape as they will probably chase the dog.
  • Call the farmer, if you have your smart phone on you look for the nearest farm on a map app. Then search for the farm number, even if it is not their herd they will probably be able to direct you to the right farmer who should help.
  • Get out of their vision for a few minutes and they may dissipate allowing for a clear path.
  • Warning bull in field, is sometimes displayed by farmers. This will be a beef bull and they are no more dangerous than cows. Dairy bulls on the other hand are often dangerous.
  • Don’t panic or fluster, they will be able to pick up on this and may think you are there to harm them.
  • If you’re pregnant or feeding try to avoid crossing a field with cows at all. They have been known to take interest in pregnant women.

The diagram above shows a cow’s field of vision. Notice they can not see directly in front of them.

cow field of vision

If you are injured by farm animals it’s important to report it to the relevant public bodies and police. In the UK this should be reported to the Health and Safety Executive.


6 thoughts on “How To Walk Across A Field With Cows Safely”

  1. A trick I’ve used for years is simple and works every time for me. For instance: a large brown cow came running up behind me. I stopped and faced the cow. Immediately moving my hand and lower arm back and forth, looking the cow in the eye and speaking gently to it. It stopped, relaxed and I petted it on the nose and walked away. The animal sees the hand moving (a good 12 inch wave…gently) and doesn’t know what to do with it. I’ve even put one on the ground this way, because they get cross eyed when you are very close (but don’t like doing it unless very necessary). Does not work on Spanish Bulls.

    As noted elsewhere calves mothers will defend their baby. I give them a lot of room at all times.

    Cows are herd animals, when separated from the herd, become wary and sometimes afraid. Herd wise, the worst I’ve found are Black Angus, they are incredibly nosy and will begin to run toward you to see who you are. The trouble is the run turns into a stampede and these things will not stop, even for a wagging hand. They will go through barbed wire fences, damage themselves etc. Once I had to run in front of the lead cow, circle until the last one, then do a very quick 90 degree step out. The lead cow followed the last one, circled, the herd stopped and began eating the grass. There were about 200 of them. It’s not called a round up for nothing.

    As for dogs, stay out of the field or leave the silly things at home. That field belongs to the cows, not us, it’s their field and we are interlopers.

  2. @Ted

    “As for dogs, stay out of the field or leave the silly things at home”

    Looks like somebody wasn’t allowed a dog when they were little!

  3. I was chased twice once in the uk and once in ireland first ti.e i was 6months pregnant second time i wasnt so y the second time

  4. we had a very scary experience this evening. we were walking in he field and the cows were passing by. Suddenly, this cow took interest in us, changed its path and came after us. we increased our speed, but she started running and came very close

    at that point we turned around and faced her and screamed asking her to go. She suddenly stopped, still carried on looking at us. we just stayed put and then gradually she moved on and when it was safe we also moved on. Just don’t know what could have happened

  5. “we increased our speed” – that is usually a mistake. See “don’t panic of fluster” above. Even if you very calmly pick up speed, cows are much more curious and playful than often given credit for and may “join in”, increasing the chance of accidentally hurting you.

    A couple of times I’ve had a little game of checkers with cows out along the riverside near here. Usually they pretty much ignore you, but if one takes interest and approaches more usually will. The trick is to plan your route through (or, better, around) to keep as much distance from them as you can, and walk slowly and calmly. If you can’t avoid getting close to one or two don’t worry, they mean you no harm. If you have little or no choice but to get close to one or more, definitely avoid getting close to young ones. They themselves are apparently more nervous & flighty, and the older animals (particularly mothers) will be very protective of them if they do startle (I say “apparently” as I’ve always managed not to get close enough to young cattle for this to be readily noticeable myself).

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