Author Topic: Factors that may shape our attitudes towards cattle...  (Read 3604 times)

WhitstableDave

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With yet more deaths caused by cattle in recent weeks, we’ve once again been discussing a whole range of approaches to the problem - everything from carrying a horse whip to refusing to enter a field that has cattle in.
 
I’ve only been walking for pleasure in the countryside for a few years, but during that time my attitude towards cattle has changed quite significantly - from treating the animals with a touch of caution, to avoiding them altogether if at all possible. 
 
This is one of the closest PRoWs to where we live - and we have never used it during the months that it has cattle in. We prefer to wait for winter!



However, I have wondered if there are factors that might influence our attitudes and approaches that we don’t ever seem to mention. Four have occurred to me, but I’m sure there are many more factors that others can think of…
 
1. Footfall.
 
By which I mean the frequency the path across the field that contains cattle is used by walkers. The most frightening experience my wife and I have suffered happened when we crossed a small field on a PRoW that’s obviously almost never used. There were a couple of dozen cows about 20m away from the stile where we would exit the field. The shape of the field meant we couldn’t see the cows as we approached the stile, but they seemed not to be interested in us. I climbed the stile after my wife and, just as I did, there was a loud bellow and a cow thundered past. We’d never experienced a close call like that before and that single incident made us completely rethink our attitude towards cattle. I believe those cows were not used to having people walk across their field.
 
On other occasions, cattle will be encountered while we’re walking on well-walked paths and I like to think that cattle in fields crossed by popular paths are unlikely to pay any attention to walkers.
 
2. Size of the group of walkers.
 
I often come across a herd of cattle when walking solo – I talk to them and sometimes try to persuade them to move, but I never have any success.
 
Last year, my wife and I were walking in the Peak District when we got to a stile where, on the other side, a pair of cows in a narrow space refused to move. A few moments later, a large group of young walkers arrived at the stile chatting and making a fair amount of noise… and the cows ran away.
 
So it seems to me that a walking group is less likely to have problems with cattle than is the lone walker or pair of walkers.
 
3. Breeds of cattle.
 
I know almost nothing about breeds of cattle. However, I do believe that some breeds are a lot more docile than others. For example, Highland Cattle look impressively scary, but (AFAIK) they’re gentle giants – or why else would bodies such as the National Trust leave them to graze their open access areas?


 
4. Lie of the land.
 
I’ve saved what I consider my most significant consideration until last. When it comes to making that decision about whether or not to mix with the cattle ahead, the lie of the land is all-important.
 
On my solo walks or on walks with my wife, only once have I abandoned all hope of making further progress and retraced my steps a considerable way. I’m not talking about finding a way around or doing a spot of trespassing in a nearby field, I mean giving up and going back rather than chancing going on!
 
We were walking in South Wales. There was a wide, fast-flowing river to our right, a railway embankment to our left, and a herd of cattle straight ahead. They were in a small, triangular field and the map showed that our exit would be at the narrow point some way ahead. As we approached, the cattle seemed to show an interest and moved towards us. We chickened out!
 


Often, fields are wide enough to give any cattle a wide berth and on open land in national parks and similar, the berth can be as wide as you like. We’re not going to walk through the middle of them, but if we keep our distance, there’s enough room for all of us!
 
Sometimes though, there can be a real dilemma. A few years ago, I was walking alongside the Royal Military Canal in the south of Kent when I arrived at a group of cattle spread across the narrow strip available to me. I had the canal to my right and a fence to the left. Returning the way I’d come would have added miles to the walk, so I had to walk straight through the herd and hope for the best. I was in my early days of walking and my wariness was still undeveloped, and it did occur to me that since I was on a named footpath, no one would put dangerous animals in my way. I was so trusting!
 


I’m hoping that if we can share our own experiences and observations, it will aid our awareness and hopefully help us all to minimise the risks we’re still likely to take…

Bigfoot_Mike

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Re: Factors that may shape our attitudes towards cattle...
« Reply #1 on: 19:11:06, 08/10/20 »
While Highland Cows might have a good reputation, one did kill a pensioner in Plockton in 2003. These beasts used to be allowed to roam wild in the village and I remember seeing them there. I certainly took avoiding action when the path back to the car was blocked by 4 cows and a bull. I didn’t fancy walking between them, given their size and the length of their horns.

BrionyB

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Re: Factors that may shape our attitudes towards cattle...
« Reply #2 on: 19:22:42, 08/10/20 »
I have wondered if weather can make a difference. It's purely anecdote, but the only time I've encountered "agitated" cattle was on an unpleasantly hot, humid evening, the kind of oppressive weather that gives me a headache - low atmospheric pressure? There was a dramatic thunderstorm that night.

ninthace

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Re: Factors that may shape our attitudes towards cattle...
« Reply #3 on: 19:27:29, 08/10/20 »
Re your point 2.  Normally cows move out of my way as I approach them, even if I am on my own but, if I can, I try not to intrude on the herd space then they generally just give me a curious or dirty look as I pass. However, there have been a few occasions when I have found it difficult to persuade cattle to move.  One was dropping off the North Pennines when I met an entire herd, including calves, blocking the only gate through the wall.  I literally had to push my way through, though I have to say the bull in middle of them was a tad unexpected.  A second was a cow across a ledge path in Austria.  There was no feasible way round and no matter how hard I pushed either end, it was going nowhere until it had finished its lunch.  One hazard we rarely see in the UK but is quite common in Europe is cows in thick forest.  When you meet those on a forest track. a degree of tact is required to get past.  The best method is to decide which side you want to pass on and then push on gently and quietly until they have had enough if being chivvied along and summon up the courage to break back past you.  The nearest to this I have had in the UK was a couple of dozen cows that had strayed on to the ex-railway line I was walking on.  The fences on either side prevented them getting out of the way so they just retreated in front of us but they got more and more agitated, the further they got from their field so we just pushed them very gently hoping they would find the courage to break back.  The last straw was a gate that blocked their further progress.  The stand well to the side technique worked and they galloped off back whence they came.
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gunwharfman

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Re: Factors that may shape our attitudes towards cattle...
« Reply #4 on: 19:48:07, 08/10/20 »
After my experiences with cattle, if I need to leg it to safety I just drop my rucksack to the floor and run. If I enter a field of cows and they look interested in me I just unsnap my hip strap, loosen my shoulder straps and unclip the chest strap, just in case. I can't run with a rucksack on my back. I've only done it once and twice nearly. The cows don't bother with a rucksack (well they didn't do anything to mine) all I did was wait, out of sight for a short while, they then wandered off and I just strolled back, lifted the bag onto my back and walked on.

I don't like it if walking across a sloping field where the cows are at the top and I'm at the bottom. It happened to me on the Cotswold Way, I'd walked though some cows and was halfway down the field, when I heard a 'stampede' from behind me. Scared me to death! I thought I was done for but at the last couple of seconds the herd just parted, some went to the left of me, some went to the right. A really scary moment.

I carry a horse whip, £5 from Go Camping, its pink, (on special offer) short and very lightweight. I tend to use it when cows are gathered around stiles, a light tap on the rump is enough to make them move. I've got away with it so far. When I run its with me if dogs get difficult, usually just the sight of it is enough. I thought I was going to have a problem today, a group of five dogs came running at me, but they were fine. I've noticed that three people now dog walk others peoples animals have started to use the area that I go to.

One of the ladies specialises in taking 'gun dogs' for walkies. I learned something the last time I saw her. She has a stirrup type pump and a container of water and she makes her dogs wet BEFORE she walks them. Easier to get the mud off when their walk is over evidently.

gunwharfman

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Re: Factors that may shape our attitudes towards cattle...
« Reply #5 on: 19:50:58, 08/10/20 »
I remember some time ago when one commenter suggested that a coat hung up above one's head with hiking sticks can be useful, makes the walker look much bigger than the cow and they keep away? I've never tried it personally!

ninthace

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Re: Factors that may shape our attitudes towards cattle...
« Reply #6 on: 20:19:54, 08/10/20 »
Thinking more about this, the title of the thread is absolutely correct.  It is more to do with attitude than the cows themselves.  Recognising there are breed differences, beef cows, dairy cows, cows with young and bulls, the fact remains that people have a very different views of cows and will therefore behave differently when faced with them.  My wife for example does not like to be near cows and is very nervous around them while I am quite happy to aproach them and to be close to them.  Cows, being curious animals will approach anything that piques their interest and they like to get close enough to inspect and smell it, typically about one metre away.  If you are the kind of person that is not bothered by this then you do not have a problem but if you aren't, the natural reaction is to retreat as they approach.  This makes you interesting, the faster you retreat, the more interesting you are.I think the advice given in the various Youtube videos is good advice but if you are the kind of person that is afraid of cows, it is not going to help as it is difficult to control your response.  If you are afraid of cows, you are not going to read their behaviour in the same way as a person who is not, what once person sees as playful behaviour another will see as agression.
All I can say is in almost 60 years of walking most of the cows that I have met were utterly indifferent to me, some have been curious, even fewer have been boisterous, very few have been naughty but I can only recall one that was actually aggressive (but not to the point of attacking).  I admit there have been odd occasions when the behaviour of cows in fields has worried me, more so since my wife has been with me, but I cannot recall not entering a field just because there were cows in it.
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pauldawes

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Re: Factors that may shape our attitudes towards cattle...
« Reply #7 on: 20:49:38, 08/10/20 »
....but I cannot recall not entering a field just because there were cows in it.


I can “echo” that. But I have certainly got out of a couple of fields double pronto because I didn’t like the behaviour of cows in them.


I think biggest single factor in turning my own attitude to being pretty cautious and slightly anxious has been direct personal experience of some cattle that struck me as darn aggressive.


Some of my close family work on farms...and when I asked them if I was being daft for being ultra cautious, they told me that they themselves never trust any large farm animal they don’t know well...and (patently) even the non aggressive ones can cause serious injury without any ill intent.

gunwharfman

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Re: Factors that may shape our attitudes towards cattle...
« Reply #8 on: 21:29:42, 08/10/20 »
As regards 'large animals' when I was walking a section of the Sussex Border Path last year a horse took the hat from my head and dropped it on the floor and then tried to take the rucksack off my back. I left my hat and retreated back to the stile a bit shaken (my first problem with a horse) so I waited, the horse then wandered off and I briskly crossed the field picking my hat up as I went.

Dovegirl

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Re: Factors that may shape our attitudes towards cattle...
« Reply #9 on: 22:08:50, 08/10/20 »
Most of my encounters with cattle have been without serious incident  -  they have shown no interest or have followed me with no sign of aggression.  If they've followed and I've held up my hand to them and said 'Stop' or 'No' they've stopped, and then, when I've set off again, so have they.  On one occasion I was walking a stretch of the Serpent Trail in West Sussex, through a field containing a large herd, and I don't know what spooked them but they suddenly stampeded  -  but parallel with me, not at me.

However, one day, when I was on the South Downs Way above the Devil's Dyke, a very popular spot, a cow butted its head against my arm.  I got away without further trouble but found the incident alarming.  But my worst experience with cattle was about half a mile away on Newtimber Hill and only a few yards from the South Downs Way itself.  Another walker, coming down the hill, had got past them but said they had their young with them.  I very cautiously ventured a short distance up the hill and one of them charged. It ground to a halt just before reaching me but it was a terrifying few moments.

I've always been wary of cattle but I'm much more so now.  If they seem docile I might walk through their field, though giving them a very wide berth. But sometimes I change my route to avoid them.  Yesterday high up on the downs, there were cattle ahead on the path, so I turned back and took another path, which lay in the valley far below them.

Thedogsmother

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Re: Factors that may shape our attitudes towards cattle...
« Reply #10 on: 22:48:09, 08/10/20 »
Last week, my friend and I decided to take a walk from Trawsfynydd through Cwm Moch to find Bryn Cader Faner. We had looked at the route and thought it was feasible so we set off. Shortly after we started our walk we came across two hikers who warned us about cattle up ahead and said that they had been charged the previous week when they were walking there with a dog. They had apparently decided to give it another go minus the dog!


We pressed on ahead to have a look at the situation, but soon decided to change our plan. The cattle were on an absolutely massive area, so in theory there should be plenty of space to pick our way quietly giving them a wide berth. Chances are we may have been fine, but it was the terrain that made us decide to change plans. It was very open land and extremely boggy. A mixture of rock and bog mostly so if we had got into difficulty we wouldn't have been able to run and cover any ground quickly. So yes, terrain was a major consideration.


We parked Bryn Cader Faber for another day and instead skirted around the lake, up to Tomen y Mur and back around to the lake, across the footbridge and back to the car. It was still a lovely walk but rather different to what we had planned! I guess it is good to be adaptable.
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Andies

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Re: Factors that may shape our attitudes towards cattle...
« Reply #11 on: 15:17:52, 09/10/20 »
I suspect that as the years pass we are all more likely to experience some issue with cattle at some time, a simple case of probability. Equally we all have different views on the risks, and as such will act accordingly.
I don't know if it is borne out in the statistics but it does seem that serious incidents involving cattle are increasing or at least being reported more.
Equally the comments about frequency of handling, different breeds and particularly the presence of dogs all seem very relevant.
All things considered my attitude has changed considerably over recent years to now avoiding cattle especially in confined fields and giving them as wide a berth as possible on open fells. Better safe than sorry.



ninthace

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Re: Factors that may shape our attitudes towards cattle...
« Reply #12 on: 15:40:18, 09/10/20 »
I have no evidence to substantiate this but, if there a rise in the number of incidents as opposed to a statistical spike, it could be that the pandemic has seen more people walking than heretofore.  I certainly noticed a rise in numbers walking both locally and on Dartmoor and Exmoor.  If true, this would mean more encounters with cows and with a larger proportion of those involved not being used to meeting cattle.  Equally, from the cows point of view, they will have had a sudden increase in the number of visitors without the opportunity to adapt.
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Islandplodder

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Re: Factors that may shape our attitudes towards cattle...
« Reply #13 on: 17:24:00, 09/10/20 »
I have heard that cattle which aren't used to people can be more aggressive.
I do avoid them as far as I can. Had a funny experience a couple of months ago, as Island daughter and I altered course to avoid the cows, we were a bit alarmed to see one detach itself from the herd and trot very purposefully in our direction. We were about to take evasive action when we realized it wasn't us she was interested in, but the place where she had learned to jump the fence into the next field where some delicious crops were growing. We left her contentedly grazing...



WhitstableDave

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Re: Factors that may shape our attitudes towards cattle...
« Reply #14 on: 17:24:20, 09/10/20 »
I probably ought to spend some time studying the subject  :-[ , but I wish I knew a bit more about the temperaments of various breeds. As in, which breeds - by their very appearance - should I be more wary of? And which, along with Highland Cattle, tend to be docile?

My wife and I are particularly cautious around black cattle. We were crossing a field a few years ago, and as we crested the summit, we saw a herd of black cattle galloping (or whatever cattle do) back and forth along the field edge where our exit was. They'd mill around for a while, then all charge off past the stile. We took the higher ground to one side of the fence line and waited until they ran as far as they could the other way. After a while, we managed to get to the stile before they headed back again.

I've no idea what breed they were - just that they were all black. And I've not trusted black cattle ever since.

Are there any other breeds I should be especially careful around? (Naming colours and patterns would be most helpful...  ;) )