Recently, I was alarmed to read a UK Daily Mail article, describing how an off duty midwife, Emma Smith was horrifically injured by a herd of cattle, when they repeatedly charged or sat on her crumpled body, while she was trying to walk her dog on a public footpath, through a field of cows with their calves, in the beautiful Cornwall countryside in England a few weeks ago.

Emma and Bell
There was apparently no warning sign on the public path, as Emma entered the field with her dog Bell on a short lead, so she, like millions of other British hikers and dog walkers, who walk on thousands of public footpaths through the British countryside each year, with or without their dogs, had no reason to think that entering the field could become a very dangerous, life-threatening act. Even though there have been four deadly cow attacks in England in the last few months and my limited research, since reading this article, has found that aggressive attacks like this from cows with calves, are happening to the public quite frequently and even fatally, every year, all over the world. 

My quick research also shows that there is apparently, some very conflicting information from the relevant authorities, as to why the attacks are happening and even how they can best be avoided or handled by the public in future. The Daily Mail article describes how :-

‘Miss Smith tripped and fell as the animals chased her and the cows then took turns to sit and roll on her. More cows then joined the attack near St Martin, on the Lizard peninsula in Cornwall, barging Miss Smith from behind as she tried to get up and leaving her drenched in blood. She managed to crawl under an electric fence to escape and was airlifted to hospital where she is still recovering a month after the ordeal.Doctors say she will take at least a year to recover and may never work again. Yesterday Miss Smith warned the public to stay away from cows. She said: ‘I’ve never seen cows act like that before – this must never happen to anyone else again.’

Cows in field
Most of the authorities quoted in various different newspaper articles that I found, covering multiple attacks over the years, seem to agree that cows in fields with their calves, are known to very easily become aggressive, if they feel threatened by people both with or without dogs. Some advise people to carry and wave a walking stick and continue to walk boldly ahead and even yell, while others strongly advise against doing this and tell the public to stop and quietly back away, others advise the public to walk quickly, preferably around the herd, being careful not to separate cows from their calves.

Some authorities advise people to never look the cows in the eye or to turn their backs on the cows, which can be difficult if the herd has surrounded you, as in Emma’s and several other reported cases. Some authorities advise people with dogs to keep their dogs on short leads, others advise them to let the dogs off the lead, as the dogs attract attention from the cows towards the owner holding the dog and they point out that if the cows charge, the dogs can run faster from an attacking cow than a person can.

This Youtube video shows 2 people being attacked by a herd of cows and managing to escape by running and jumping the fence (warning it contains some pretty strong language!).

·  2 boys get attacked by cows 

Another article this week called 'Aggressive foreign cows attacking British ramblers', reporting on these recent attacks and 4 deaths in England from separate cow attacks, in the last few months, blames recently introduced foreign beef cows for being more aggressive than English cows! This sounds like a possible red herring (or Hereford Red) to me, as it implies that aggressive cow attacks are a new problem, when this is obviously not the case or that the incidence of cow attacks is increasing recently when a quick search has shown me that they have been occurring in similar numbers for many years. It would be good to see scientific research confirming or denying these claims.

There is plenty of evidence of three or more people dying from cow attacks in one year, over several years in England, in the last decade and possibly long before these foreign, more aggressive cows were apparently, recently introduced.

Some of the authorities are also trying to imply that these attacks from cows with calves are very rare attacks, maybe to minimize what could potentially become a better recognized, public health and safety problem for farmers, insurers and the public in the future, by requiring farmers and councils to take more precautionary and preventative actions, like putting up warning or advisory signs, when public footpaths go through fields with cows that have young calves with them.

I have quite easily and quickly found plenty of newspaper articles from other years, reporting numerous crippling and fatal attacks, occurring with alarming frequency but how many more minor cow attacks still go unreported, I wonder? 

In America this 2009 article called 'Dangerous Cows' by Denise Grady from the US Tierney Lab, New York Times, describes how ‘The image of cows as placid, gentle creatures is a city slicker’s fantasy, judging from an article published on Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which reports that about 20 people a year are killed by cows in the United States. In some cases, the cows actually attack humans—ramming them, knocking them down, goring them, trampling them and kicking them in the head—resulting in fatal injuries to the head and chest. Mother cows, like other animals, can be fiercely protective of their young, and dairy bulls, the report notes, are “especially possessive of their herd and occasionally disrupt feeding, cleaning, and milking routines.

Another article in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, discusses 21 cases in which people were killed by cattle, from 2003 to 2007, in Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska. Claiming that :-

'In 16 cases, “the animal was deemed to have purposefully struck the victim,” the report states. In 5 other cases, people were crushed against walls or by gates shoved by the cattle. Ten of the attacks were by bulls, 6 by cows and 5 by “multiple cattle.” A third of the deaths were caused by animals that had been aggressive in the past'.

A 2009 Telegraph news article called ‘The right to cross a field without being hurt by cows’ discusses how there is a general belief that farmers are allowing the public to walk across their fields and then implies that it is more likely, that if the public are walking on a right of way it is a “right” and even though the farms are working areas, they are probably subject to the same Health and Safety regulations as any other work place. This article also points out that :-

‘Unfortunately, there is a divergence of views about the best way to cross a field containing cattle when walking with a dog. The Countryside Code suggests dogs should always be on a lead when livestock are present, but many in the farming community suggest that it is safest for the walker to keep the dog off the lead but under control.’

I personally agree with the suggestion that the number of incidences of personal injury and death caused by cattle, not just recently but for years now, would suggest that 'this problem is more widespread than the public realize, and that the advice given to walkers and farmers should be reviewed.’

I feel that my own very quick and limited research has shown that there probably needs to be more scientific research and better, more consistent advice from authorities to the public, explaining why some cows attack, how many cow attacks are taking place and how best to prevent and manage these cow attacks in the future. There also needs to be more warning and advisory signs for the public and their dogs, crossing fields of cows and calves on public footpaths, when so many unsuspecting people have been injured and killed by aggressive cows over the years and so few people are aware of the danger.