Monday, August 24

Walkers & Cattle - Advice

The Enemy #1 - The Cow
Genetically over engineered over many centuries into a meat & milk provider. Typically two tone in colour. Heavy nasal drooling at one end. And a different sort of drooling at the other.

If in doubt carefully use a scratch & sniff test to quickly distinguish the key differences. Try not to lick your fingers afterwards.

The Enemy #2 - The Bullock
The juvenile male. Often identified by a tendency to unexpectedly demonstrate their sexual awakening by attempting to mount each other. Often repeatedly. Despite mixed success.
Intensely curious and prone to rapidly cover a field's length seconds after you've strayed within the barb wire/electrified boundary fence fortification.

The Owner - The Cattle Farmer
Some believe this to be a mix of the two genres. Often distinguished by the use of green wellingtons, dung coloured (typically blue) overalls, & a loud greeting call "Gerroff-my-land-you-townies".

Well ok I may be guilty of ever egging those descriptions a little.

Except for the green wellies.

But more seriously today's BBC reports have hi-lighted certain dangers associated with these usually tranquil beasts (I meant the cows by the way)

Beware of cows with their calves. Especially if you encounter them whilst accompanied by a dog.

Personally, even when not dog accompanied, I have a tendency to avoid any beast weighing in excess of 1/2 ton and capable of short bursts of speed in my general direction. No matter what its motivation may be.

The NFU advice has been issued as a result of the deaths of 3 walkers in 3 months.

Their advice to walkers
"if you have a dog with you, keep it under close control, but do not hang on to it should a cow or bull start acting aggressively. If you feel threatened, just carry on as normal, do not run, move to the edge of the field and if possible find another way round the field, returning to the original path as soon as is possible. And remember to close the gate".

(I love that mention of the gate. A good idea to prevent yet another headlong chase down the next field, but at the same time rather a recognisable farmy piece of advice)

The main problem for those of not familiar with bovine nature - what is aggressive behaviour?

Most cattle will wander over to a stile if they spot a walker. After all chewing cud and trying to mount your brothers can becomes tedious after a few weeks of such wild experiences.

I regularly walk across a large open expanse of common land watching the behaviour of cattle.

Based, I assume on their previous encounters, a few cattle will hang back from the main herd, effectively acting as scouts. These will initiate a rapid move towards the cause of any disquiet, bringing the rest of the herd cavorting behind them, feet drumming hard.

Not a pleasant prospect if you happen to be that cause.

Unfortunately the latest victim was a farmer. But back at the Royal Welsh Show in July the FUW (think NFU Wales) was quoted as saying that "Cases of potentially-deadly stampeding cattle unwittingly spooked by dog walkers are almost certainly set to rise"
(Lets ignore the comment "In part it was due to cash-strapped "townies" holidaying in the UK at a time of recession and heading for the countryside to relax"

Here's my advice, based on years of experience using farm paths. Its personal, so make up your own mind at your own risk.

1. Don’t keep the dog on a lead, but do keep it under control at all times.

If its not sufficiently well trained to stay to heel, or be sent away, you really shouldn't be out with it amongst farm animals.

2. By all means carry a stout stick. But as most people, including myself, do not carry one try picking up a few small stones (not rocks!) before entering a field.

It’s a last ditch deterrent. Better a few stings on a cow's thick hide, and a potential dressing down from a farmer, than being knocked over & injured by a fast moving herd.

3. If the beasts move towards you, make loud single syllable noises, such as they'd expect from the cowhand (cowherd?) also make yourself look bigger, but try not to wave your hands about alarmingly. Not so much noise that they become spooked, but enough to give you time for a rapid & controlled exit, whilst they try to work out just what the hell you are.

Thinking herding noises.

(I used this on my last Dartmoor trip for a couple of miles, in an area covered with impenetrable gorse thickets and narrow paths. A river was on one side. A steep rise on the other. The cows & their calves wouldn’t take the hint to veer away, despite my vectoring approaches. As this was the only way off the moor unless I turned back for a five mile detour, near the end of a long day I had little choice on this occasion.

4. Don’t (completely) turn your back or try to out sprint them. Back away steadily whilst ensuring you remain upright & prepared to move off to one side to avoid any confrontation.

5. Keep an eye out for all potential exit routes, moving well around any herd where possible. Remember that most of the boundary hedgerows will be hiding barbed wire. Its meant to prevent the escape of large curious animals. That works the same where you are concerned as well.
Its not a good time to find this out when entangled in this as part of any rapid exit.

Remember Steve McQueen in the Great Escape?

6. If it does come to a close up encounter I'm told a hard slap across the snout will work wonders.

Personally I've not test this particular tip. Not do I ever intend to get into a situation where I need to test the hypothesis.

If someone slapped me across the snout I’d tend to thrash about a fair bit, or take it as an attack. But quite what a 1/2 ton beast may do …..?

7. Finally (or should this be firstly?) if in doubt make a detour to avoid crossing the field.

I'm not too proud to admit I've done this on many occasions where cows/horses have shown rather too much interest in my presence before I've even entered the field.

This is one circumstance where Flight before Fight is A Good Thing

Any more tips - leave a comment please.


Dogs are the problem, as they always are with everything. I cycle past cattle and even bulls when I cycle to work and I've never had a problem. I even had to almost brush against Mr. Bull once to get past him and he didn't bat an eyelid.
There are two cases you never go near cattle/bulls:
1 - with a dog
2 - when two bulls are near each other
I was in the Peak District a couple of months ago and crossed a field with youngish cows in.
One young male came towards me followed by another. I made a rude noise and it backed off. Feeling pleased with myself I walked confidently towards it thinking it would back off further. Noooo no no started bucking and kicking on the spot.
Right thinks I, time to stamp and shout. Young male and friend back off....and then come bucking and jumping towards me. This twoing and froing carries on for about 5 minutes and by that time I am feeling the icy fingers of fear in my bowels (possibly trapped wind). I bow to the enevitable and back completely off until I retrace my steps back to the gate. Having climbed over I then glance over to another section of the field and spy 2 "farmer-types" leaning on a section of the fence looking in my direction. Must have watched it all ....from that distance couldnt tell if their shoulders were heaving up and down or not!
Scary stuff, I have to be honest and admit I just give up eveytime I feel I am being threatened. We've only had it once in a field of steers and they were just overly curious, but we retreated just to be safe.

Loving the descriptions as always though :D
Possibly I am fortunate, having worked with beasts in the past, (four legged and two)usually I talk to them quietly,acknowledging their presence and never really have any problem. Farmers can be awkward, usually if I show some interest in their farming activities, or compliment them on their fine livestock they are generally ok. One thing to keep in mind, livestock rustling has increased to very high numbers, one farmer losing five hundred free range pigs in a night; thus farmers are more wary of anyone on their land. Remember, like any mother, cows are protective of their calves, give them some room if possible.
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