Monday, 2 July 2012

Be Warned - Cows Are Killers

I will never walk through a field of cows again and – if you have any sense – neither will you.

Yesterday, driving home, I passed a farm.  In the wood next to the farm was a huge fire, with leaping flames.
No problem; I’m an interferer by nature.
I pulled into the driveway, got out, opened (and closed) the gate, and started to walk down a long pathway to the farm to ask the farmer if he was aware.

An intimidating situation
Next to the pathway was a field of cows.  Even before I started down the path they were clearly ‘spooked’ by the fire.  My presence on the path, however, steadily increased their agitation.
First, a large black and white cow – which I took to be the leader of the herd – charged towards the fence.  It was leaping and crashing down on all four hooves more like an enraged horse than how one imagines a cow. 

After it had run at me a number of times and turned away, I was beginning to get a bit alarmed.  I was very aware that the fence between us was merely a mesh wire with studs, and would not stop the beast if it genuinely attacked.
I turned and faced it, looked it in the eye, shouted ‘No!’ very firmly and authoritatively, and it turned away. 

Next, a large number of cows formed themselves into a herd, wheeled round, and came at the fence at a run. 
I assessed my options.  I was about a third of the way down the path.  They were charging from behind me so there was no chance of getting back to the car.  It was too far to run to the farm, and I suspected that running away might increase their agitation.
I again turned and faced them, shouted ‘No!’, and they turned away.

What’s the matter with cows today!
Cows never used to be like that!  When I was a very small child my father used to send me into the cow-field to collect buckets of manure for his roses! 

Indeed, I remember one school trip as a young teacher meeting a herd of cows with a class of 50 schoolchildren.  ‘Don’t be scared’, I told them, ‘Cows are chicken – if you just walk confidently at them they’ll run away.’  And so we did, and so did they – indeed, my main care was to prevent the children doing anything to scare the cows, not to stop the cows harming the children.
My blood runs cold just thinking of that time; if we had met on that occasion the herd of cows I met yesterday, we would – I am sure – have all been trampled.

I continued down the path.  I have to admit that I grew increasingly reassured, but only because the farm was increasingly within ‘run-as-fast-as-you-can’ distance.  Even so, still, twice more, I felt it necessary to turn and shout at groups of cows that were getting alarmingly aggressive.

I have been aware of an increasing number of stories in the press of people being trampled to death by cows.  It strikes me that the reports generally try to make ‘excuses’ for them.  Cows are alarmed by a dog, I have read, so let your dog off the lead to run away.  Cows will attack if they feel you are threatening their calves, I have heard.

But these cows had no calves, and I had no dog.  

These cows were after ME, and they wanted to do me harm.

A truly terrifying threat
I reached the farm, and spoke with the farmer, and he was aware of the fire, and no harm done.
“Do you mind just watching me back past your cows?” I asked him. “They were getting very frisky on the way down.”
“Oh you needn’t worry,” he assured me.  “It’s an electric fence – they won’t be coming through that.”

Far from reassuring me, this alarmed me all the more. 
It had not, therefore, been my authoritative shouting which had deterred the cows – it had been the electric fence. 
I am not exaggerating or over-reacting.  I am simply sure that, if I had been trying to cross the field, rather than walking down the side of an electric fence, I would now be dead, and nothing I could have done or said would have prevented it.

I find this terrifying.  Before yesterday’s (I realise now, lucky) encounter – when, unknown to me, I was perfectly safe – I would not have thought twice about walking through a field of cows. 
Even more frighteningly, I know many family and friends who also would not think twice about entering a field of cows – they come from a generation which assumes that cows are docile and harmless.

But these cows were neither docile nor harmless.
They were wild, and could have been deadly.

Never again
Many years have passed, of course, since those harmless beasts of my youth, when docility had been bred into most breeds.  Since then, we have seen a generation of cows wiped out by foot-and-mouth and mad cow disease.  I presume that there have been new feeds, new bloodlines and different genes.  I also wonder what role the ‘right to roam’ has played in producing a more aggressive breed of cow. 

To be honest, I don’t know enough to do anything other than wonder why cows are so different nowadays.

One thing I do know, however, is that I will never walk through a field of cows ever again, because I won’t trust them not to be like the cows I encountered yesterday.

And – if you have any sense – neither will you.

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