In this article, Libby describes what she has learnt about cattle behaviour, shares her tips on keeping safe, and gives us her six-point check list.
How I try to reduce my risk of being attacked by cattle
I was not at all worried about the dangers of being attacked by cattle… before I was trampled and viciously attacked. (Read my story here.)
Until then, I’m afraid to admit I was one of those walkers who felt that people who worried about cows were just townies who didn’t understand them, and I am ashamed to say I thought people who were attacked by cattle had dogs that were worrying the herd, or had done something wrong to spook the herd.
I know differently now and apologise for having had such blinkered views.
Now, I have a set of personal rules when I embark on a walk to try to keep me, and anyone I walk with, safe. These views are my own and they may not work for you, but at least we are now starting from a sensible level of awareness of the dangers.
Carry maps and phones
I carry good maps of the area I’m walking through, so if I can’t proceed one way I can work out a different route. Walking on my own or part of a group, I ensure there is a mobile phone, just in case help is required.
Walking in a group is safer
On reading the (harrowing) accounts of attacks and near misses, it seems that most attacks happen to lone walkers or couples. I have not read of any attacks on a group of walkers. So I feel safer walking in a group. When walking on my own, or with just one friend, I am much more wary, and more likely to go a different route if cattle are in a field ahead of us.
All cattle are potentially dangerous
I was of the opinion that in the more touristy places cows should be used to walkers, but since I was attacked, with absolutely no provocation, on a popular section of Offa’s Dyke national trail, that theory has been debunked! I am wary of all cattle.
Dogs might trigger an attack
If I walk with people who have a dog, I am more wary also – on reading accounts – it seems that the presence of a dog can unsettle cattle (but letting go of your dog once the cattle are after you does not ensure either your dogs or your safety – see David’s tale ). I am also aware that 30% of attacks don’t involve dogs – so I’m not automatically safe if I don’t have one!
Beware beef cattle
I am even more nervous of beef cattle (75% of British beef herds now contain some Limousin genes and there is expert opinion out there that these are a breed that are very good mothers – i.e. they are very protective of their calves – i.e. high risk of aggression!) Dairy cattle are more used to people, but that does not exclude them from my internal list of dangerous animals.
Dealing with bulls and bullocks
Bullocks can be scary when they charge along a field to see what’s happening, but these are more easily coped with by the old trick of arms out – slowly – and commanding them in deep voice. This should make them stop. (Note the “should”)
Lone bulls are a no-no!
Check your exits
I do not enter a field with cattle if they are clustered around the stile into or out of the field. I am not getting that close to them!
Avoid spooking cattle
I have learnt that cattle can be spooked by sudden movement. Their eyesight is rubbish – so it can be a good idea to talk to them in a gentle voice as you enter a field, so they know you’re around. Don’t walk through the middle of the herd, because you don’t want to separate one from its mates and spook it.
Never believe you can run to safety
I walk around the edge of a field so I can leap over a fence if necessary. “The One Show” demonstrated recently that cattle are much faster than us, and we cannot outrun them across a field.
Watch how cattle react to your presence
Matt from “The One Show” had an excellent piece of advice when he was talking about the risks of cattle attack on the programme recently. “Enter the field and just wait a moment and see what happens to the mood of the cattle.”
Matt also said, “Don’t carry plastic bags – they rustle and can sound like food bags.” You don’t want to be surrounded by hungry heifers. Cattle don’t like loud noise, but if you make a noise trying to scare them away – they may charge at you!!
Avoid cattle with calves
Advice from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) warns about cattle with calves. “Newly calved cows are very protective of their calves and should be treated with caution.”
My preference would be for all cattle with calves to be fenced off from walkers as these are the riskiest group out there (HSE actually suggests farmers do not place cattle with calves in fields with public access). It is not always possible to spot a calf when you first enter a field – so it is difficult to avoid them.
So my internal checklist when at a stile surveying a field of cattle reads like this:-
- Can I see calves – don’t enter!
- Cattle around stile – don’t enter!
- Cattle look interested and stop chewing to focus on us and move nearer – retreat!
- I can’t see the way out or don’t know where the way out is – don’t enter!
- The herd are spread around the field and I cannot circle around them – don’t enter!
- There isn’t an escape route – fence/wall/river that I can easily jump over/into should need arise – don’t enter!
A lot of don’ts I’m afraid, but I still enjoy walking. I hope these tips/warnings are of use to you, and I hope you never get caught in a situation that scares you.
Useful tips from Libby, and many walkers will carry a similar checklist in their heads. Please feel free to submit your own advice in the comments section. We will publish any useful and valid contributions.
Stay safe out there and please remember: no advice works all of the time.