How to safely cross a field of cows

cowsThey are much bigger than a human, with an average body weight many times that of even an obese member of our species. So when faced with a field full of these dopey looking creatures it’s maybe understandable that there is a bit of apprehension. After all, they could inflict severe damage on us if they so wish.

For many people, crossing a field full of cows is a big deal. In our time spent hiking we’ve seen many people young and old become quite agitated about the prospect of running the gauntlet with these giants, and looking for alternative routes to avoid an unpleasant encounter.

There really is nothing to fear however. Cows are relatively predictable animals (as much as any animal can be) and provided walkers exercise a little common sense they are safer crossing a field than they are walking along the adjacent country lane and dealing with the oncoming traffic. As we start the summer hiking season, here are a few tips to stay safe while out walking.

Things not to do with cows:

1. Never get between a cow and its calf. Cows are protective creatures and will defend their young if they feel there is a threat. Standing or walking between a cow and its calves is easily avoided by avoiding walking through the middle of a herd of cows if young calves are present. Cows often make this easier for you by moving away from approaching walkers, as long as they see you in good time.

2. Don’t let your dog off its leash around cattle, and steer clear if someone else has done this. Cows are not very clever. If they were, they would not fear little dogs that are barely bigger than their hooves. Yet the sound and sight of an unruly dog can cause a lot of stress for these giants, and can set the herd off into a stampede. You do not want to be in the field when this is occurring. If you have a dog and the cows become aggressive towards it, let the dog go. Walkers with dogs have been trampled to death while trying to protect their dogs.

What to do if a herd of cows is running toward you

The chances are, if cows are running in your direction they are probably trying to get to somewhere beyond you, and are not attacking (unless you have a dog; see above). If you do feel threatened and can’t get out of the way, consider that cows have dubious eyesight (apparently). A good tactic is to spread out your arms and legs to make the largest possible shape (if there are more than one of you you can get together to create a bigger outline). This might well stop the charge. If not then the next idea is to make a loud noise at the cows are bearing down on you, and step aside (if possible) to allow them to pass to your side. The chances are they will run past you, and they will be close enough to smell the fear in your breath, but you will survive.

I must qualify this advice as coming from an urban dweller. Any country folk are welcome to rip this apart and offer some far more sensible ideas to stay safe from the threat of cows. Happy walking!

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32 Responses to “How to safely cross a field of cows”

  1. Tom #

    Good entry Andy…Cows can be scary when running. In fact I remember running down a steep hill in the South Downs with a heard of cows frightened of the thunder strom. Normally i hate storms but the fear of cows took my mind of the electricity.

    For all runners can you suggest how to be safe from dogs. Owners love to let them go wild and if I had ยฃ1 for every dog owner who said word to the effect of’ ‘it won’t hurt you’ or ‘its safe’ I’d be very rich.

    May 19, 2010 at 2:12 pm
  2. i’ve sometimes wondered whether or not i was alone when it came to being afraid of walking around cows, especially the HUGE ones with really big heads. thanks for helping me to see that not only am i NOT alone, but there’s practical ways to overcome this fear, lol! in all seriousness, i am uneasy around huge bovines so thanks!

    May 19, 2010 at 6:27 pm
  3. I’ve SO been there! Trying to walk along Hadrian’s Wall. And those cows had HORNS. They’re MUCH cuter on the other side of the fence!

    May 19, 2010 at 6:42 pm
  4. Great to hear there are so many cowophobes out there! The image of cows with really big heads is not going to leave me in a hurry, JR – hilarious!
    Tom, I agree that a stampeding herd of frightened cows is a much more immediate threat than a thunderstorm. I share you fear.
    Ian and Wendy, I have been assured that the cows you speak of (Highland cattle) are the most gentle breed there is. We were told this by a laughing farmer who had watched us avoid his herd some years ago…
    Thanks for all the comments. Keep em coming!

    May 19, 2010 at 10:51 pm
  5. Very nice article… I’ve walked over many fields with cows on it & our dog loved chasing them. :)
    Cows are strange animals. Somehow they are very clever & somehow they aren’t. If they knew how strong they are, they would behave different many times. :)

    I remember that we once wanted to cross a field with some cows on it. They were quite in the distance, so we had no closer look really. When we were in the middle of the field, we realized that the cows were young bulls & racing towards us! But we won the race! lol



    May 20, 2010 at 9:09 am
  6. Cows are unlikely to be scary, make a loud noise, pick up a stick and they will ignore you unless its a mean old Bull, then you are screwed, but they are in the minority, docile stupid creatures.

    May 20, 2010 at 9:19 am
  7. Melvin, you should have recorded your escape from the running bulls on video. It would have been a YouTube sensation :-)
    Guy, that’s why it’s always worth checking the undercarriage before crossing the field (to see if it’s a girl or a boy) ๐Ÿ˜‰

    May 20, 2010 at 2:54 pm
    • Hillplodder #

      …or as said in Carry on Camping – “I wouldn’t try milking that one, it’s only got one tap!”

      July 25, 2011 at 8:35 am
  8. Yes, I should have, but I am not really used to look for these things… lol But if I see a field with bulls again, I’ll get my video cam & will run over it! What we all do for clicks… ๐Ÿ˜‰
    (that might be another interesting post for you… the part with “What we all do for clicks.”)

    May 20, 2010 at 2:59 pm
  9. that’s a good idea! Yes, I think too many videos look like a set-up, where people do crazy ‘spontaneous’ things to get their moment of fame. Watch this space…

    May 20, 2010 at 3:15 pm
  10. Sometimes I have to cross a field of cows in order to find the best place for taking photos of a castle or church. After crossing the cattle fence I always wonder: Do cattle think I am breaking in (into their field) or rather breaking out (from my field ‘surrounded’ by the fence). As always its a question of view…

    July 22, 2010 at 6:51 am
  11. Thanks Andreas, I love the way this discussion could go. What are the cows thinking? Is it affected by their previous experiences? Perhaps their relationship with their mother as a calf? Did they ever really get to know their father? The list of questions is endless :-)

    July 22, 2010 at 9:48 am
  12. Clare #

    I’ve crossed many fields of cows, including bulls, without incidence. In fact, for many years, I had to ‘protect’ my scared husband. However, today I had a very frightening experience. As I crossed a field, a herd of cows and calves in an adjacent field charged (not joking) towards me at such speed and making such a noise I truly thought ‘this is it’!! They surrounded me, kicking out and bellowing loudly. Have never heard a sound like it before. Some of them kept taking little runs at me. I was stuck rigidly to the spot. I gathered my senses and slowly edged around the field but had to cross the gateway to the other field (from where they had appeared). Some other cows and calves were near the gateway and so I had to go through the herd. Boy, oh boy, they didn’t like that. I made a lot of noise and started waving my arms wildly and the main herd ran away but then these others charged me. I have never before been so relieved to reach a stile and I’m sure it must have made a good video had someone been around to film it. Can anyone explain their behaviour? I was alone, just ambling along quietly.

    May 25, 2011 at 4:13 pm
  13. sam #

    I took my dog hiking in Pleasanton, CA this weekend and I wish I read your article first because I let my dog off the leash and as we were passing cows about 45 yards away, I look over and they are running after us. I ran for my life, along a barbed wire fence and just in time found a gate. They wanted to kill us!!!! Horrified, I am buying pepper spray and a horn for next time (and keeping the dog on the leash).

    And honestly, I didn’t want to try out the screaming and waving the arms method, in case it didn’t work. There is no way I was going to stop and see.

    June 20, 2011 at 7:46 pm
  14. Chris #

    Well, Yesterday whilst walking around appletreewick. We walk this many times.

    My wife has a fear of fields of cows, as we have a little Cavalier King Charles and cows being inquisitive, they come to see us.

    Except this time, whilst walking through the field of Cows and calves. We got half way through the field without problem.

    Then out of no where a cow charged from our left to attack our little dog, who was on a short lead with us.

    I had to shout to my wife to let go of the lead. I had my 9 month old daughter on my back, and in the split second i had to assess the situation, our dog had already sustained many pin point blows from the Cows hooves.

    So something had to be done, we had no real exit as the screaming from this cow brought many more around us.

    So i shouted as loud as i could, and put all my years of boxing into the cows backside.

    Thankfully it diecided enough was enough and stoppped.

    Dog battered and bruised and both my wife and i will NEVER enter a field with cows ever again. One family was nearly wiped out!!!!

    I don’t see why Cows with their calves are kept in a field with a public right of way going through it!

    July 25, 2011 at 7:40 am
    • Willl #

      You shouldnt get behind a cow as they can kick quite well try stay beside them

      July 30, 2012 at 4:20 am
  15. Nathan #

    Recently me and 3 other friends went to check out an old building, upon leaving we noticed that there was a herd of cows now in the field ( roughly 16-18) we then noticed that a ram (male sheep) was behind us and began to charge, we then sprinted out onto the field, turned around and noticed that the cows had now become a cluster of running steamroller……. we were chased for about 3/4 of a mile before we reached a barb wire….. is there anyway that we could have scared them of as we were unsure if they had become a stampede or if they were just chasing us.

    Note to all field wanderers.. COWS ARE VERY FAST FOR THEIR SIZE!

    August 2, 2011 at 1:53 am
  16. Morgan #

    Glad to read all these encounters after my ‘encounter’ yesterday. I was running the Cateran trail up in Scotland, as a ‘little’ 55 mile adventure..had to cross through numerous cow pastures on the trail, especially after the spittal of glenshee. Ipassed through at least 3-4 without incident, and didn’t feel threatened, some moved away, some ran away from me. i generally tried to stay on the outside of all of them…then i came to one field where i had to cross through the herd, and i was jogging a bit faster. one of the cows decided she didn’t want me in her field, and begin a very very fast charge at me! I sprinted as fast as I could to the nearest fence and luckily she decided i wasn’t a thread anymore and veered off, but i’ve never been so scared in my adult life! i hate the fact that so many waymarked trails pass through cow pastures!! surely they could reroute the trail?! around the perimeter!

    September 8, 2011 at 9:35 pm
  17. Jon #

    Just today I was walking through a field next to a river, and there were a group of about 7 or 8 cows gathered around a feeder eating hay. I had to walk past them within a few metres to carry on along the path and as I approach I notice a few of them with their heads raised, staring right at me.
    Deciding that I was too close to turn back I carried on and tried to hurry past them. The next thing I know the largest cow in the herd was walking really fast towards me. I quickly tried to look for a gap in the fence that I could hop over, but the fenced area was thick with thorn bushes with no gaps. I Turned round and this big cow and the rest of it’s herd were charging straight at me within 3 or 4 metres! I ran as fast as I could and glanced behind only to see the huge cow running even faster and was only a couple of metres behind me! I jumped over a stile just in time but the gate next to it was open and the cattle ran straight through after me. I launched myself through the hedge next to me and clambered down a steep river bank.
    I stood there in this gap on the bank surrounded by thorn trees so I couldn’t go anywhere. The cattle stood there at the top of the river bank behind a thread of barbed wire that was supposed to be a fence, a couple of them were stamping there feet. I waited there and after 15 or 20 minutes they lost interest and moved on down the field. So I clambered back up the river bank and took a huge detour around them. I was so close to getting trampled today.

    I’m saying this to warn everyone of the potential danger: I didn’t have a dog, and they didn’t have calves. There seemed to be no reason for their attack. They just decided I was a threat for no reason. And it could happen to anyone. always keep the biggest distance you can between cattle and make sure there’s an escape route if they decide to charge. Man, that was some scary stuff today, I’m just glad I didn’t get trampled ๐Ÿ˜

    September 8, 2011 at 10:00 pm
  18. julie marsden #

    I went across a cow field and thought cows were doseile creatures we had two puppys on leads and the whole field of cows came from every direction and charged towards us. I could not let my puppys off as there was a road nearby we managed to get to the other side of the feild by waving and shouting. The public footpath went straight through this field. I think that the public should be protected from the cows and make the public right of ways safe opening the countryside up to all that means farmers keeping herds of cows off public right of way ie a safe passage through there feild. Or is this farmers trying to discourage the public from using the public right of ways. The farmers could fence off the edge of there feild if there is a public right of way going through it. It could be the cost of someones life.

    October 22, 2011 at 11:36 pm
  19. Totally agree with Julie, I hike with groups regularly and cow’s (rightly) scare the shit out of me. I treat them with extreme caution!

    How is “public access” accessable with a 10 ton beastie that’s going to trample you to death in it?!

    Any advise from farmers on how to stay safe – they should know!

    October 23, 2011 at 11:41 am
  20. All they do is eat anyway so no worries; they won’t even know you’re there! ๐Ÿ˜›

    October 23, 2011 at 4:52 pm
  21. Shocked #

    Don’t go to Crichton castle, a mediaeval relic in countryside south of Edinburgh. 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. Its publicity says nothing about the cows at all.

    April 2, 2012 at 2:50 pm
  22. brian #

    It is against the law for any cattle\land owner to let them graze in a public right of way, that may or could cause danger. Ok people reporting it on here how they were charged by cattle etc. Why not instead take it up with the land/cattle owners also the HSE. Just because you managed to cross the field safely this time, what about the next person who may not be so lucky….

    June 6, 2012 at 10:56 am
  23. Jordan #

    Yeah it’s nice to know other people have had this happen to them also. Recently my grandparents moved into a new house right beside a cow pasture, so when i helped them move some stuff out there I decided to feed the cows over the fence. They were so scared of me they wouldn’t get any closer than 5 feet away. Im not very afraid of cows; I always though they wouldn’t hurt a fly unless it’s a bull of course. So i decided to check out the pasture out in the field. I pobably got close to a football field away from them out in the pasture with no problem. Next thing I know theyre all running at me, so I ran as fast as I could to the nearest fence and crawled under it. The same cows that were afraid to eat hey from my hand!!!

    June 10, 2012 at 1:15 am
  24. John #

    I was walking across a field yesterday in the dark with my dog. I was not aware there were there and i saw them move not knowing if there were cows or bulls I got a quarter of the field when there ran towards me and then cow went to ram the dog i shouted boo and it stopped there all ran back and then there came back and i was surrounded by them in front of me another one tried to ram the dog i did the same it stopped but then there did not move. I had to edge my way past then there were standing on the path i tried to keep calm trying to doge them and there was horses in the field as well. Well before i knew it i was at the end of the field and i made sure i closed the gate/ Never again 6/10 i give that experience.

    June 22, 2012 at 12:16 am
  25. Vinnie #

    I believe I have a fear for some especially if they start walking towards you and follow you around as I walked 1 looked like it was going to charge I thought it was a bull because I did not see an Udder but this cow had horns.

    I have walked through a Cow Field where some cows actually moved out of my way I am fine with them.

    I think it more depends on the Cows and what they do

    June 23, 2012 at 10:03 pm
  26. Christian #

    Thanks for the advice! A year ago I was running away from a heard of young bulls and fell over on a rabbit hole and broke my arm. After that I have never lived it down with my friends. I’m glad some people know how I feel. Lol

    June 26, 2012 at 9:25 pm
  27. Chris #

    Being a regular river fisherman, walking through fields of cows are in my opinion the most scary thing out, I must admit to being uneasy with any animal bigger than a jack russell dog, but only last week I was fishing a lovely part of the river having walked over a large field to get there, after a couple of hours fishing I decided it was time to leave, when I got to the gate, I saw a huge field with dozens of cows, many right by the gate I had to go through, with absolutely no alternative as to walk right through them I started my terrified journey, the problem was, my fishing tackle was cumbersome and rattling causing some cows to be over interested, halfway across the field one of them started to get its head down and start to trot towards me, quickly followed by several others, despite my efforts to walk quickly away, show no threat to them I felt I was in danger so had to run to the gate with about 8 angry cows surrounding me, after managing to get through the gate, sitting down shaking and getting my breath back, I have decided never to fish there again, I didnt catch anything anyway!!

    July 7, 2012 at 6:38 pm
  28. Pat #

    As a country dweller I know cows, steers, heifers etc can look pretty scary when they come towards you, especially if they are running from a distance but it is usually curiosity, not aggression and, unless you have a dog with you, they are unlikely to attack you if you stand your ground. If you run , they may well follow. Personally, I would be much more reluctant to enter a field with horses in it.
    I was interested in the entry which mentioned a ram. My cousin’s car was comprehensively damaged by an irate ram! I wouldn’t tangle with one of those!

    July 7, 2012 at 11:10 pm
  29. Chad #

    As a child I was generally happy walking with these beasts around me. As I have now got older I am finding them much less tame. I don’t know if its boredom or abuse but they behave much differently now.
    I have been charged more than once, the latest was last weekend. I was the target (or at least me and the missus) we were aware of them so headed gently in the opposite direction to them through the gate, anticipating skirting the field as far away as possible. Once some progress had been made it became very clear we were in alot of trouble. The things were not only charging but bucking and kicking all over the place.
    Faced with similar before I have found the most successful thing, if they are intent on getting physical is established, has been to charge back being noisy and aggressive, biding enough time for the missus to escape and then me back where we had come.
    Being calm and quiet, I don’t know why we have begun attracting this attention and pretty much will never ever enter a field with cows again. Taking the charge back approach is counter intuitive but has saved our bacon more than once.

    September 11, 2012 at 4:33 pm
  30. Elaine #

    I came across this page searching to see what to do if you’re charged by a grumpy cow, after this happened at the weekend (walking Hadrian’s Wall, must be some grumpy cows on that trail!)

    Me and my sister had been so careful about not walking between cow and calf, and giving the cows as wide a berth as we could, then realised a lone cow (without calf) was ‘dancing’ towards us. As it got closer it lowered its head, made a hideous noise and started to charge at my sister. She raised a hand and shouted ‘NO!!’ really loudly and it turned and ran in the opposite direction. My hero!
    To be honest there wasn’t really much else that could have been done, if we’d run back we’d be running into the herd we’d just carefully negotiated and the mean one was blocking our path forwards. Sideways was a swamp, not really an option and probably easier for the cow than us.

    I’ve never been charged before but this was a scary experience and I have to admit I’m a bit more wary of the beefy friends now! I’m not so keen on crossing fields with cows in now, even though this is the first time I’ve really encountered a mean one.

    September 18, 2012 at 11:23 am