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Cattle may get aggressive when threatened, or they might just imitate to be aggressive. I have seen cattle charging towards a person when irritated.

How should one react if a cow or bull comes charging towards him/her?

EDIT: I think the word 'cattle' can have lots of possibilities. So I think its better that I narrow down the scope a bit. Lets just stick to the domestic cows and bulls, and strictly not the wild cattle. I am extremely sorry if this edit affects any of the answer significantly. Nonetheless, you all have my upvote.

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    cow or bull? And do you mean rutting in the technical farm jargon sense of "looking for sex" or just generally moving? Or moving in a way you perceive as aggressive? – Kate Gregory Nov 17 '15 at 14:40
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    Best to try and be proactive... If one or more of the animals glares at you, starts huffing and puffing from the nose, or starts stamping/digging with a front leg; then it's time to walk - not run - in the opposite direction... and be ready run if they charge. Remember walking to school as a kid - how I feared and hated those cows in various pastures I had to cross... They were never anything but curious though (unlike my neighbours stallion - he was agressive). – Baard Kopperud Nov 17 '15 at 21:02
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    I'm imagining the asker in a field, having just asked this question on their phone, frantically hitting "refresh" as the bull bares down on them, growling "Come on... answer... quickly..." :-) – user56reinstatemonica8 Nov 18 '15 at 13:56
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    @mattnz Just curious, is there a difference in dairy and beef cows charging? – gerrit Nov 18 '15 at 15:47
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In the UK (we don't have many dangerous animals) cows are the most dangerous animals you're likely to come across. They kill about a dozen people every year.

Typically most deaths are caused by herds trampling people/farmers. A lot of people are wary of bulls. In my experience a herd of mother cows is more dangerous, especially if the cows think you are a threat (i.e. have a barking dog snapping at their heels). The single most dangerous situation is a spooked herd running at you in a confined space. So don't put your self in that situation.

Typically, like many things, prevention is better than reaction. So always be aware of cows in a field. Couple of things to be wary of:

  • Do the cow(s) have calves? This is typically how most people get into trouble, a mother cow will protect her calf.
  • Do you have a dog with you? Keep dogs on leads in fields with cows. If your dog is attacked by a cow, don't try and save it, a dog will outrun a cow, you won't!
  • Is it a single cow approaching or is the herd stampeding? A single cow is likely more scared of you than you are of it. Just stand your ground, make a lot of noise, it will likely just run away. If the herd is stampeding or a bull is running at then you're in trouble, get to the edge of the field ASAP, try and get something between you and the cow(s).
  • Stay visible, and make a noise. Cows are not predators (Taken from Tim B's answer), they're not out to get you. But a startled cow will run and this may be towards other people or yourself, if it feels threatened. So make your presence known. Making a noise may attract some careful attention, the cows may think they're getting fed. Don't be too alarmed by this, it's normal and they just think you're the farmer. Typically (I find) cows with calves or bulls will stay out of your way rather than approach you like this.
  • Is there a bull in the field? If yes, is it alone or with other cows? A bull with cows is likely to be more territorial than a lone bull off season.
  • Is it breeding season? Bulls will be more aggressive when rutting, hence a bull with cows is more aggressive than on its own.

If in doubt (regardless of where the footpath may go) walk around the edge of the field, avoid the cows as best as you can. Farmers are typically happier for you to do this than stamp though their fields anyway. Try not to antagonise the cows (especially if they have calves).

In the UK fields with bulls in must be marked. It is illegal to put bulls in fields with a footpath though it.

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    Also farmers in the UK mark fields with cows and calves in, which tend to be along the lines of 'Enter at your own risk' though I've seen less polite ones. – Aravona Nov 17 '15 at 14:26
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    There has been quite a few deaths in the UK caused by dogs attacking cattle (especially mother cows) and this causing the cows to stampede. The person then tries to help their dog and ends up getting themselves killed, hence the advice. The dog will typically get away un-hurt. Also bear in mind that a farmer (in the UK again) is well within his rights to kill any dog bothering his livestock. Again been a few of these locally by me where a dog has attacked a sheep and the farmer has shot the dog. Typically keep your dog on a lead if it's going to go near livestock. – user2766 Nov 17 '15 at 15:54
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    My favorite warning was something along these lines: "Can you run across this yard in 9 seconds? The bull does it in 10!" – Baard Kopperud Nov 17 '15 at 20:55
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    @Liam In the UK, the farmer will kill the dog bothering his livestock. In Texas, the farmer will kill the human bothering his livestock. ;-) – gerrit Nov 18 '15 at 12:55
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    @gerrit Only between sunset and sunrise. Really. The law allows defense of capital property in the hours of darknesss as an affirmative defense and specifically names cattle as capital property (or did when I was younger, I heard there was a move on by some city folk to have it changed, and I don't live there anymore). – dmckee Nov 20 '15 at 1:56
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I often encounter semi-wild cattle on the "range" here in Idaho. Much of our land is public, primarily mountainous, and has seasonal cattle grazing (spring to fall). Cows with calves and range bulls are a definite danger if you don't pay attention. The range bulls are a bit like moose: occasionally scared of people, but usually a bit irritated by your presence. They will usually move out of your path if you are quiet and confident, but once in a while, I meet one that is belligerent or on the "warpath" (usually a range bull). I treat them the same way I treat a moose:

  • I use the terrain: get near a tree to use as a defense (this has always worked when one was available), or get on higher ground
  • No aggression
  • No sudden movements
  • If they are not close, I make sure I'm visible and I stand my ground
  • If they are close and approaching, I back off and give them the ground they want
  • I've found that holding up a stick (walking stick size or longer) makes them a lot more cautious (works on most wild animals in Idaho), and they nearly always stop sooner and stay further away
  • The range bulls are extremely intimidating up close, but they've never approached me closer than about 10 feet. If one were to approach closer, my plan has always been to break the stick across their face with all I've got and run in a zig-zag pattern. I grew up with Holsteins and these sometimes aggressive bulls (but not quite as scary as an Angus range bull) have never caught me.
  • As a final precaution, I'm usually carrying bear spray or a pistol in the outdoors, and would use either (preferably the bear spray since I don't want to hurt an animal or pay for an expensive bull). I would use the pistol as a final defensive measure after having already been tromped a bit but, having grown up with cattle, I know the likelihood of actual, physical conflict is very minimal, so I doubt it will EVER come to that here in Idaho.

I hope that helps! -

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    Re your last point: as a child, one of my favorite books was by a vet named Robert M. Miller, in which he tells stories about his practice. One of the (sadder) stories is about him driving home and arriving at a surreal scene: a cow has been hit by a car, and a half-dozen police officers empty magazine after magazine of their pistols, unsuccessfully trying to put it out of its misery. My point is: unless you know exactly where your shooting and get up real close, a pistol is probably not going to do you much good. After all … – Jörg W Mittag Nov 17 '15 at 22:28
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    … when the situation really is that bad that you don't see any other option, you probably want the bull to immediately drop dead, and not get even more angry because of its injury, and that basically means destroying the brain or severing the spinal cord, both of which are kinda important to vertebrates and thus tend to be well-protected. – Jörg W Mittag Nov 17 '15 at 22:29
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    Here's the excerpt. I misremembered a bit, it was just 6 bullets from a .38 and one shot from a .357 Magnum that didn't even make the bull flinch. The point still stands, though: a pistol will only help you if you know what you are doing. The spray is probably the better option. – Jörg W Mittag Nov 17 '15 at 22:41
  • @JörgWMittag "...6 bullets from a .38 and one shot from a .357 Magnum that didn't even make the bull flinch." At such a close range, it's not the caliber that matters, it's the shot placement. "The spray is probably the better option." Yeah, I stated that the spray would be my preference. "...a pistol will only help you if you know what you are doing." Absolutely. Like any tool, a gun doesn't do the job by itself. The user must learn how to use it properly beforehand, which requires a good deal of practice. – 243DRob Nov 18 '15 at 3:17
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    @JörgWMittag "My point is: unless you know exactly where your shooting and get up real close, a pistol is probably not going to do you much good." So true. Having personally butchered my own home-raised beef, I can tell you first hand that a tiny .22 caliber bullet is extremely and immediately effective. In such a terrible situation as being tromped and gored by a bull, anyone who knows how to use a gun would probably wish they had one at hand. Just the noise itself would most likely cause the bull to back off for at least a moment. – 243DRob Nov 18 '15 at 3:26
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Unlike with most predators, running away works if you can get far enough fast enough. The bull chasing you can run faster than you, but the reason he's chasing you in the first place is only because he wants you out of his territory. By running away you show the bull that you're not a threat, not asserting dominance, and are also giving him the desired result. If you're lucky, after a short distance the bull will feel like he achieved his aim and stop persuing you. After all, you're not dinner to him, like you are to a predator. Once you're far enough away, you aren't worth expending energy on anymore.

It helps to run towards the nearest fence that you can hop, or some other obstacle that the bull can't as easily cross as you can. Make sure not to run towards any of the other cattle. If no fence is nearby, head towards a rocky outcrop. Cattle can walk on rocks, but see little value in them.

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When I was a child (probably about 10) I had a small herd of cows all run down the hill towards me as I was crossing the field. They didn't look aggressive and there was no bull so I just stood still and waited since I was in the middle of the field so unlikely to be able to outrun them.

They stopped and milled around me for a bit, while I spoke in a calm voice and then without moving quickly stroked one of them. Then they all moved on. Maybe they thought I might be carrying food but they seemed curious more than anything else.

I wouldn't recommend it in all cases but it certainly worked in this one.

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    That has always been my experience as a kid living in the country. Cows in a field without a bull are very curious. As one cow decides to investigate you, the others follow. It soon becomes a race as to which one gets to you first! It can be very intimidating. Making a sudden loud noise and waving your arms around will usually make them screech to a halt... for a few seconds at least. Letting them approach generally results in stroking them and getting your hands licked! – Greg Woods Nov 17 '15 at 17:04
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    Most intelligent answer. cows are not predators, they're VERY curious most of the time and they're cowards as most grazing animals. Running away will simply make them run after you to see what's up and as a crowd, a herd of cows doesn't stop on a dime! In fact cows are way more dangerous when you pet them and they get too "friendly". You can easily be stunned when they swing their heads! – go-junta Nov 18 '15 at 2:23
  • They likely thought they were getting fed. Farmers will often supplement feed in the winter with silage, etc. You make a good point though, a herd of cows running is not immediately a danger. But they can be very dangerous in the wrong circumstances. – user2766 Nov 18 '15 at 8:49
  • It certainly looked scary as they came running down the hill towards me! It all worked out fine though. – Tim B Nov 18 '15 at 9:07
  • Cows are surprisingly curious critters. I used to fly-fish at a farm where the pond was at the bottom of the pasture, and some days I'd have to quit fishing to avoid accidentally hooking a cow. They'd see me doing something and come down to the pond for a drink and a bit of curious investigation. I'd talk to them, scratch them between and around their horn-buds, and eventually they'd be satisfied and wander off to...ahem...greener pastures. :-) – Bob Jarvis - Reinstate Monica Nov 19 '15 at 2:23
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My wife grew up on a farm and every year they'd raise a steer for meat. My father-in-law, being very...um...frugal, would never buy a real beef animal to feed up. Instead, he'd find a male calf of whatever variety turned up that was...inexpensive.

One year he found what he considered a really great animal to raise - a cross between a Charolais (beef animal) and a Holstein (big dairy animal). He was duly fixed and turned out in the pasture with the dairy cows to fatten up until his appointment with the butcher came around.

He was soon as big as the smaller dairy cows - and not long after he was as big as the medium sized dairy cows - and eventually he was bigger than the biggest of the ladies - which, given that they were Holsteins and Brown Swiss, means he was a BIG DANG ANIMAL.

Soon he was too big to have around the cows so he was put into his own pasture every morning. And that's where he learned to...play.

His idea of "play" was to come up snorting and pawing to anything and everything that ventured, however briefly, into his pasture. He never actually hurt anybody - but he sure promised to do so, and nobody stuck around long enough to find out if he meant business or was just kidding around.

Well, one day my wife, who was then about 12 years old, had to get from here to there on the farm and, not seeing him in his pasture, decided to cut across it. Bad idea - because pretty soon she heard the sound of hooves thudding across the pasture behind her, getting closer and closer. She said to herself, "I am NOT going to run from this thing!", and reached down into the grass and picked something up.

Well, up came this steer, until he was right behind her where he stopped and let out a loud warning "SNOORRRT!". My wife whipped around, reached back, swung - and cracked that steer right across the nose with the 2x4 she'd picked up from the grass. The steer dropped to his knees, crossed his eyes, and let out a loud and rather pained bellow.

Bleeding badly from the nose he got back to his feet, staggered a bit, and then decided that there was something very interesting elsewhere in the pasture, and he was going to go investigate it very gingerly. My wife continued across the pasture - and from that day on, right up until that steer became freezer beef, he would not mess with her. She'd step into his pasture and he'd find reasons to be elsewhere. Anywhere. Just not around that little one. She bites! :-)

Tl;Dr

Point of the story - a 2x4, applied properly, works wonders on the most recalcitrant bovine. Only use in times of dire necessity, because an animal that's mistreated will soon become dangerous - but if you need to, make it count. (I'll point out that we raise goats, and I've never felt need to raise a hand to them. Grabbing them by the horns and holding their head steady right next to my leg is all the discipline they need. But they only weigh 100 - 150 pounds instead of the 1000+ pounds of a bovine).

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    Nice story :) As I said to Tyler below, most deaths (in the UK at least) happen when herds crush people, not single animals. A single animal (bull or not) isn't (as you demonstrate) that dangerous. 20 cows running right at you in a confined space is! – user2766 Nov 19 '15 at 8:43
  • "2x4, applied properly, works wonders" - Nicely put. I worked on a dairy once that had an aggressive Holstein bull. We had electric cattle prods and a 4-foot metal "whip". I never liked the cattle prods and always opted for the whip when I had to move the cows. The bull was never really a problem except once when I had to separate him from the herd in an alleyway. He tried to run me over and I laid that whip across his forehead - hard. That stopped him and turned him around. He was always meek around me after that, but not to others and, finally, had to be sold down the road. – 243DRob Nov 19 '15 at 15:42
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I'm late to the party but one time my dad was trying to get a calf into a corral and its mom charged my dad.

My dad stood his ground. Didn't move a muscle.

I was pretty little and I thought I was about to watch my dad get killed by a charging cow.

Just feet before hitting my dad the cow planted its feet and kind of slid to a stop. Its face was inches from my dads face. They stared into each others eyes for what seemed like an eternity to me—although it was probably only a few seconds. Eventually the cow backed down and guided its calf into the corral.

My dad shut the fence and that was it.

EDIT.

This was only a single cow. Do not do this if a bull or more than one animal is charging you. Do this at your own risk.

  • Good anecdote, but are you seriously suggesting that's the way one should react if a cow or bull comes charging towards you? – Roflo Nov 18 '15 at 15:01
  • It worked for my dad. I've also done the same with angry dogs since that time and they've always backed off. I would not do the same if a bull was charging me however but definitely for a cow. – Tyler Davis Nov 18 '15 at 15:57
  • A single animal is less dangerous than a herd. As I understand it most deaths happen when herds stampede, standing your ground in front of 20 animals is likely a bad idea. – user2766 Nov 19 '15 at 8:41
  • I guess I should add that in my answer. – Tyler Davis Nov 19 '15 at 13:00
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Our horses would gallop to us and skid at the last moment but they were expecting a treat. On the other hand, cows are intelligent creatures also and there are only two things influencing them. Feed and Sex. Sans protection of babies outlined above.

Throw up dirt/dust, appear bigger and step out of the way much like bull fighters and be moving toward higher, safer ground.

You can try throwing a rock but it needs to be a big enough one to take stomping you off the cow's mind.

Back to the basics? Always be with a companion. Know what is all around you . . be aware of your surroundings. Above and below such as ground hog holes (ankle twisters), rocks and trees. In the West, mountain lion hide in trees, up on rocks and rattle snakes are in the old, abandoned gopher holes. Much of nature will avoid you. Stop and smell the roses unless a dog just marked it and marvel at what nature is really all about. Keep smilin' someone will wonder what you are up to.

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Cow will run towards you if they think you have feed or milking time. Stand your ground facing them. They will stop about 3 foot from you. A bull charges in a strait line. Head down. You can side step them & work your way to a fence or tree. A cow charges head up. They keep sight of you. If they don't hook you slide your bullock knife between there ribs. Get a lung on them. P.S. Last waterbuffalo charge I seen 3 years ago. It took 3 men to bring her down & 1 still got hurt.

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