walking and writing

Trails and trials of the writer who walks

Heifer and Safety Issues – Load of Bullocks?

Cows w calves at Bergers-2How to avoid bovver with the bovines.

When I was a child growing up in Devon, calves were taken from their mothers at an early age and it was pitiful to hear the cows lowing mournfully at the gate for days on end. The more modern practice of having cows and calves in the field together – and sometimes dad gets a look in too – is quite touching. However …

Cows who have calves with them undergo a most dramatic personality change. Sadly, whilst on my May 2013 walking trip, I read of yet another person trampled to death by cows.

A bull in the field with his harem is a contented fellow, and less of a threat than his wives (but see note 7 below). A lone bull might fancy attacking just to break the monotony, and if he starts eyeing you up from a distance, he’s not just being curious: he’s calculating how fast he needs to run, taking into account body weight and wind speed, in order to maximise the height of the toss.

Here are some lessons I’ve learned the hard way:

  1. ‘Safe’ cows pay you no heed at all until you get very close, at which point they will look at you a bit nervously, then shuffle off.
  2. ‘Dangerous’ cows (and also bullocks and bulls) tend to give you ‘the evil eye’ from a distance. They’re weighing you up, deciding if you’re a threat to them.
  3. Look around very carefully for calves. They like to hang out together in gangs rather than stay at their mothers’ sides. I was once caught out when the gang of calves were in a section of the field I couldn’t see from the stile I climbed over. I should have recognised the ‘evil eye from a distance’ (see note 2) that meant all was not well. The gang of calves spotted me first, stampeded in fright, and that in turn really spooked their mothers. They began charging when I was already too far from the stile to run back to it. I held them off with my walking poles, my back to the perimeter hedge, and side-shuffled to a gate which I cleared in a leap that could have qualified for the pensioner olympics.
  4. If there are calves, keep a very wide berth and make sure you don’t get between a calf and its mother.
  5. If I had a dog with me, I would NEVER enter a field that had both cows and calves. In fact, I don’t think I would even venture in a field with cows. They really hate dogs. If the cows start coming towards you, they are NOT being friendly. Let your dog off its lead. Your dog can outrun the cows.
  6. Walking poles are life savers (see note 3). Bullocks are usually just playful and curious but you really don’t want one to knock you over. If they follow you, a bit of pole waving and snarling can keep them back. You can see the uncertainty in their eyes, whereas an angry cow just looks angry.
  7. Despite what I’ve said about a bull that’s in with his cows, I’m going to choose a route as far away from him as possible, with plenty of cows between us. I don’t want to risk getting between Ted Tosterone and the Grunting Gertrude of his dreams.
  8. When the field has a lone bull, I am not entering unless I have witnessed as least three walkers do so before me and am thus convinced that this bull considers ramblers to be boring goring, not worth bothering about.
  9. Don’t be afraid to be afraid. Just because it’s a public footpath, doesn’t mean there isn’t something dangerous on it. It could be a snarling dog in the farmyard or a bad-tempered horse. Wouldn’t walk anywhere without my poles for self-defence!
  10. (Because numbered lists always have ten points). If you’ve had to climb a few walls or barbed wire fences or backtrack a mile to avoid a particular field, just tell yourself how sensible you were to err on the side of caution and feel good about it.
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This entry was posted on May 29, 2013 by in Walking, Writing and tagged , , .
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