Cows and how to deal with them

When we came back to the UK, I was excited to run trails without fear of the wildlife. The Bay Area is home to rattlesnakes and mountain lions – I never saw the latter but I saw several snakes including two rattlers. The wildlife was the main reason I very rarely ran trails alone. So I imagined myself waltzing through the British countryside without any cares.

wilts sheep
I love sheep

I had not however thought about….cows!

Cows are surprisingly dangerous. They actually do kill a number of walkers every year and several people I spoke to had friends or acquaintances who had had scary run-ins with bovine menaces. My qualms were not groundless.


I had three cow encounters this week. Grace and I walked very carefully through a cow-filled field on Sunday. Out running alone on Tuesday, I decided to turn back when the trail headed through a herd over a hill. And today, the Husband and I followed a trail through a field with a massive herd of cows and a truly enormous bull. All of the footpaths we were on were public rights of way and cows (and the bull) were sign-posted appropriately but I can’t deny I was very leery as we made our way through the herd. Even me calmly informing them I was vegetarian didn’t seem to make them less curious about us.


This afternoon, I posed the question of how to handle fields of cows on a local runners’ Facebook group that I’ve joined and I found that many other runners felt the same way I do. The ladies made some great suggestions on what to do to be safe, and I also found other resources on the web. I wanted to gather all the guidelines here as a reference for myself and other runners and hikers.

How to pass safely through a cow-field. 

  • Walk the perimeter of the field rather than pass through the herd. This gives you a potential escape route and also helps you put as much space as possible between you and the cows.
  • Walk slowly and quietly. Don’t run. If you run, they will too.
  • Act calmly. No sudden movements.
  • If they approach, stand still and outstretch your arms (or wave them). Apparently they will likely stop in their tracks.
  • Cows will be more dangerous if they have young to protect.
  • Bear in mind that if cows are blocking the public footpath, you are within your legal rights to find an alternative way through the field.
  • Bulls are generally calm when they’re with cows. It’s when they’re alone that they pose more of a threat.
  • Don’t make eye-to-eye contact with cattle. (No selfies, people!)


Notes on runners with dogs

  • Cows will be more dangerous if you have a dog – in fact most of the people who have been killed by cows have had dogs with them. Cows see dogs as a much bigger threat than humans, one source suggested they see dogs as wolves!
  • If you have a dog, kept it under tight control but release it immediately if it looks like there will be trouble. That’s the easiest way for you and your dog to both stay safe and alive. Dogs will outrun the cows and they’ll outrun you.
  • In fact, several sources recommend simply not walking through fields of cows if you have a dog. Find another route. This is particularly the case during calving season.

I found having this info quite empowering – particularly the suggestion of walking the perimeter of the field instead of passing through the herd. I don’t know if I’ll ever have the confidence to go through a cow-field but knowledge is power, people!

Good luck!

Helpful Sources

  1. Go for a Walk
  2. Countryfile
  3. Ramblers’ Association

13 Comments Add yours

  1. Normally I would that since I live in NYC, I don’t need to worry about running into cows during my run, but a few weeks ago there was a loose bull on the run in the park where I run pretty much every day. Thanks for the PSA and now I know what to do if I ever see a cow in Prospect Park.

    1. Cathryn says:

      I genuinely never expected this to be a useful post for NYC dwellers! Hilarious.

  2. Tim says:

    “Don’t make eye-to-eye contact with cattle.” I can remember as a kid we used to see who would blink first in a staring contest with a cow 😐

    I’ve spent a lot of time walking through the cow fields of England; never got chased, but I believe the reports. Take care and moo-ve over 🙂

    1. Cathryn says:

      Your jokes are udderly appalling!

      1. Tim says:

        I’m sure I can milk it for a little longer too. Hope you don’t have a beef with that.

      2. Cathryn says:

        I bet you have them down ‘pat’ by now 🙂

  3. Rachel says:

    Interesting info, didn’t know some of this. Mostly I’ve found small ok, but years ago I did have to run half a field length from a bull, made it over the stile in time so am cautious. You must remind Andy when you see him of the day we call ‘when you tried to kill me’ involving high tide, a cliff and a field full of angry cows.

    1. Cathryn says:

      I shall start that conversation! Tell me when WILL we be seeing you? Wiltshire is waiting…

  4. Rachel says:

    *Small cow herds

  5. Simon says:

    Hi Cathryn,
    Cows are only really ever a problem when they are with their young calves. Saying that I have been through many fields when are with their young. Dogs will obviously make them more inclined to protect their young, but I have been through fields with cows and calves with our friendly little cavalier spaniel. If you shout at cows and wave your arms, they will be stop and turn heel. Having lived on a farm for the first 20 odd years, the bullocks (okay they are different to cows!) were never an issue.
    Simon Johnson

    1. Cathryn says:

      I think you’re right, but I also think they sense fear. I ran through a cow-field last week with a friend whose dad is a dairy farmer. She was totally chill with them and they didn’t even glance at us. When I go through a field, they turn and stare at me. I think they sense fear. Swines…I’m vegetarian, they’re totally safe from me! 🙂

  6. Libby says:

    Good info on a topic that needs shouting about. I’m part of a group of worried walkers who have either been attacked or scared by cattle. We’re collecting stories of these attacks – unprovoked, on careful walkers, come and see our website

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