How to Prevent an Attack By a Cow When Hiking

cow in alpine meadow

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Hikers need to take precautions any time they are walking through a field full of cows, even though these animals have a long history of domestication. Hikers will encounter cows in farm areas in the U.S. and especially when hiking in the Swiss Alps or in other alpine regions.

Cows would rather spend their days grazing, looking after their young, or napping in a meadow, and most cattle have considerable experience with farmers and other humans and aren't likely to attack unless they feel quite threatened. Male bulls can sometimes act aggressively, but even this is unlikely unless they are cornered or surprised in a pasture. 

Adult cows can stand nearly six feet tall and may weigh more than 1,000 pounds. Plus they may have horns and sharp hooves. Cattle, especially males, can become aggressive as individuals, but since they are herd animals, they will often be encountered as a group. Most cases of hikers being injured by cows occur when the hiker behaves erratically or becomes aggressive through fear.

Tips for Preventing a Cow Attack

In order to keep from being gored, trampled or kicked by a cow, here are a few things to keep in mind when encountering cows, especially if they become aggressive.

  • Keep dogs under control at all times. A cow will often become aggressive towards a chasing dog, and when the dog returns to its owner, a cow or a group of cows may rush towards the dog and owner. Dogs are frequently implicated in aggressive cow incidents. If cows are charging you because they are reacting to your dog, let the dog go so that you can get to safety. The dog almost certainly can take care of itself. 
  • Avoid walking directly through a herd of cows if possible, but if you must walk through them, stay on the established hiker’s path. Calmly wave hiking poles towards cows resting on a trail and speak in a normal voice to encourage them to move out of your way. Move slowly, keep calm and act authoritatively but peacefully.
  • Evaluate surrounding terrain carefully if you encounter cows in an area where there is not an established hiking path. Do not put yourself in further danger by trying to walk around cows in an alpine meadow if doing so will expose you to cliffs or other steep, exposed terrain.
  • Make sure cows see you as you are approaching so that you do not surprise them. Due to the placement of their eyes, cows do not have a straight-ahead line of sight, so make sure they respond to your voice and move before you are too close.
  • Walk well clear of calves, as a mother will instinctually protect her young. Aggressive cow encounters often involve mothers protecting calves in the early spring or summer. Be particularly aware of calves in fields at these times, and resist the temptation to pet cows and calves, no matter how cute they may be.
  • If cows come towards you as a group, they may be curious. Remain calm and continue walking on quietly and quickly, trying to pass around them without making any startling movements. Cows will most likely leave you alone once they realize you are not a threat.
  • If you detect an aggressive cow or a threatening group of cows, keep moving calmly and do not make direct eye contact. Keep your body facing the cow; do not turn your back to the animal or run.
  • If an aggressive cow does charge you, use your trekking poles as a weapon, and hit the animal directly on the nose to deter it. Be quick and precise with your hit. Don’t wave poles wildly, as the motion may further aggravate an aggressive cow.
  • Finally, walk in remote areas with a partner so that you may help each other out. If you encounter cows with a partner or as a group of hikers, stay together to project a larger presence, and make sure that you move together in the same careful, calm way that you would move if you were to encounter cows on your own.
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