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Britain's farmers union issues a warning about angry cows

August 25, 2009 |  5:00 pm

Cow Following a spate of incidents in which cows trampled humans to death, the U.K.'s National Farmers Union has issued a warning to residents about the dangers of provoking the humble bovine.

A string of cow-trampling deaths -- four in the past two months, most in cases where the trampled human was walking one or more dogs near a herd of cattle -- prompted the union to issue the warning, which addresses dog-walkers specifically and also cautions anyone walking with or without a dog in the presence of mother cows with young calves.

"Our advice to walkers is if you have a dog with you, keep it under close control, but do not hang on to it should a cow or bull start acting aggressively," the union's statement reads.  "If you feel threatened, just carry on as normal, do not run, move to the edge of the field and if possible find another way round the field, returning to the original path as soon as is possible. And remember to close the gate."

Britain's Kennel Club weighed in on the pressing issue of angry cattle as well, with the group's communications director, Caroline Kisko, noting that city dwellers on holiday in the country "might have a potentially dangerous lack of knowledge" about farm-related safety precautions that would place them at extra risk. "Young cattle are naturally curious and are particularly interested in dogs, so avoiding fields with cattle grazing is a sensible precaution," Kisko added. 

Robert Sheasby, the National Farmers Union's rural surveyor, concurred.  "The cattle are interested in the dog, not the walker," Sheasby told Reuters.  "As the cattle try to get the dog, there's a high chance they will get the walker too."  And a normally gentle cow can quickly become, well, not so gentle, particularly if she views a dog as a threat to her calf.

Should the unthinkable happen and a dog-walker run afoul of an angry herd, the best course of action is, essentially, to cut and run, Kisko said.  "Unclip [the dog's] lead and get out of the field as quickly as possible -- most dogs can run faster than their owner and will get out of harm's way -- then call your dog as soon as you are out of danger."

Another U.K. group, a "walkers' rights" organization called the Ramblers, even went so far as to release a handy "dos and don'ts" list for those wandering in the vicinity of cows.  The Ramblers' recommendations include such common-sense gems as "Be prepared for cattle to react to your presence, especially if you have a dog with you," and "Don't get between cows and their calves."

The Independent notes that cows aren't the only farm-animal species that seem on edge in the U.K. nowadays: A farmer in the English county of Wiltshire recently suffered an alpaca bite so severe that he had to be airlifted to a hospital for treatment.  That incident was one of the first reported bites by the woolly South American creatures in U.K. history.

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: A Holstein cow that may or may not be plotting something.  Credit: Toby Talbot / Associated Press

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