We’ve had a small herd of beef cattle for nearly a decade now, and I’ve never been seriously injured by one. In fact, I can only remember a single incident where things came close to getting serious, and it wasn’t really the cow’s fault. But for folks less familiar with cattle, the question comes up: what do I do if a cow or bull charges me?
From folks who have experience being charged by cattle, you’ll hear a variety of responses, with no real consistent pattern. I can’t guarantee any of these will work, but here are a few ideas you might keep in mind if being charged by a cow or bull.
Don’t try to outrun a cow, they’re much faster than us. Stand your ground and make yourself look and sound large. Step to side when they approach and hit them in the nose or face.
If you can get to a tree or another object to climb or hide behind, make a beeline for it. If you sense a threat of being charged, don’t enter a pasture where you can’t be near the fence or an object of safety in the event an animal charges you.
Run away, but don’t run in a straight line. Run in a zig zag pattern. Cows can run fast but can’t maneuver and change directions on a dime.
Stand your ground, throw something at the charging animal, and step to the side as it approaches. If it passes by and turns back, stand tall, yell at it, throw stuff at it and try hitting it in the nose or face.
If it’s a cow, stand your ground. If it’s a bull, run.
Fall flat and pretend to be dead.
Okay, so those are a few suggestions I’ve seen from people who have been around cattle, but I don’t know if any of them are ‘right’, or work better than any others. Fortunately, I don’t know what I’d do because I haven’t been in a situation where I had to choose!
My philosophy is that most of the potential for danger with cows can be prevented in the first place. First off, by only purchasing and raising calm, gentle animals you’ll minimize the possibility of being charged. The more time you spend in close proximity to those animals, the more they tend to trust you, rely on you for food and access to food or water, and consider you a master or friend. Even bulls can be friendly. Bulls who are raised in close contact with humans and are well handled tend to be much easier and gentler to have on the farm. Never trust a bull, though. You just never know what they can do.
At times I’ve had our gentle herd of cattle come running at me full bore. If I wasn’t familiar with them I’d think I was being charged, and might take off running, scared, which would probably cause them to run at me even faster. In reality, though, my cows are running because they’re hungry and excited, and think I’m moving them to a fresh paddock of lush, green grass!! If I stand my ground they’ll come to a halt a couple feet away and probably just moo at me, asking where the food is.
The one time I really got charged was a tough situation for both me and the cow. She’d had a hard birth and her calf wasn’t doing too well. It wouldn’t stand and nurse, and I had to take the calf away from her so we could get it in the house, get it warmed up and bottle feed it. When a cow has a newborn calf, there’s an overpowering instinct to protect that calf from anything. Some cows will recognize you and seem to understand you’re not going to hurt their calf. Poor or new mothers might ignore their calf. But most good mother cows are going to be very upset by anyone getting near their calf! This cow charged me aggressively, putting me off balance and on the ground, and my wife fortunately stepped in and scared her back.
I’ve been in lots of similar situations when tagging newborn calves with nervous, unhappy mothers angrily approaching. If the situation looks to be dangerous, simply getting away from the calf should quickly eliminate the threat. These days we’re not tagging or working calves at birth, eliminating the potential for being charged, but in the pasture I never really considered this a serious threat with my herd. However, I’d never try working a calf in an enclosed area, like a barn, with the mother cow nearby. In fact, doing anything stressful to cows in close quarters without the proper equipment is a bad idea. That’s a recipe for getting hurt!
So in a nutshell, there are a variety of things you can do if you’re ever charged by a cow. I don’t know which works best. My advice? Avoid aggressive animals, and avoid situations where you could be charged. That way, you won’t even have to ask the question!