When it comes to a list of dangerous animals, most of us probably wouldn’t rank cows very high. While bulls (except for Ferdinand!) have a reputation for being mean and dangerous, does the same apply to all cows? Can cows be aggressive towards humans?

While most cows are mellow animals, in certain circumstances, cows can show aggression towards humans and are responsible for about 20 human deaths per year in the U.S. Keep reading to learn why cows can be aggressive and how to avoid getting hurt.

divider-multipet Why Cows Can Become Aggressive

Cows can become aggressive for several different reasons. One of the most common is a mother cow protecting her calf. The “mama bear” instinct is just as strong in cows as it is in other female animals and an otherwise gentle cow may defend her calf aggressively.

Bulls can be aggressive and dangerous when defending their herd or territory or when they are around female cows in heat.

Cattle that are sick or stressed may exhibit unusual behavior such as aggression towards humans. Female cows in heat are also more likely to be aggressive. Any time a cow is by itself rather than with their herd, they’re more likely to feel unsafe and react aggressively.

Because they are not bred to interact with people, beef cows can be more prone to aggressive behaviors like kicking. Any cow who hasn’t been well-socialized to people may be fearful of us and lash out aggressively.

In some cases, aggressive behavior in cows may be an inherited, genetic trait.

Cow on farm
Image Credit: Studio Peace, Shutterstock

Types of Aggressive Behavior In Cows

When they are aggressive towards humans, cows usually kick, head butt, or crush and trample them. Because cows are so much bigger than people, interacting with them always carries at least some risk.

Cows, not just bulls, can also be aggressive towards each other. In fact, female cows can be even meaner to each other than bulls are! They may fight for hours at a time, taking rest breaks before picking right back where they left off.

Staying Safe Around Cows

If you’re working with or interacting with cows, there are certain steps you should take to stay safe and avoid getting hurt.

For one, take extra care or simply avoid handling cows who have any of the risk factors for aggression we discussed already, such as being in heat or having a calf with them.

Always move calmly and quietly around cows and don’t startle them. Cows are very sensitive to noise and can behave unpredictably when they’re spooked.

Learn how to read a cow or bull’s behavior to judge whether it’s safe to interact with them. For example, a cow’s tail is held in different positions based on their mood. A relaxed cow’s tail will hang normally while a scared or painful cow will tuck their tail between their legs.

Signs of aggression in a bull include pawing the ground, shaking their head from side to side, and arching their backs.

In rural areas, people may find themselves at risk from cows while hiking or walking through fields, especially when they are with dogs. Cows view dogs as predators and may react instinctively to protect themselves. Avoid entering fields if cows are present, especially if there are bulls or baby calves in the herd.

cow farm
Image Credit: RitaE, Pixabay

What To Do If You Are Threatened By a Cow

Avoiding dangerous scenarios is always the best option but if you do find yourself in a field with a potentially aggressive herd of cows, here’s how to handle it.

First things first, don’t panic. Move calmly and quietly away from the cows. Don’t run, especially if there’s a bull in the herd. Cows can run much faster than people anyway.

If you’re working with cows and become concerned they’re growing potentially aggressive, it’s best to leave the area and allow the animals to settle down. Always make sure you have an escape route if needed, especially if working with bulls, and never turn your back on the animals.

divider-multipet Conclusion

Cows generally don’t pose a threat to humans without a good reason, although bulls are more unpredictable. When working with any animal, especially one as big as a cow, it’s important to understand the risks and to be properly trained in how to safely do so. A little bit of prevention goes a long way when it comes to avoiding aggressive behaviors and injuries from cows.

Featured Image Credit: Pixabay