The erroneous romanticizing of cows


My social media pages have been flooded with a particular post about a business that offers ” Cow Cuddles” for $300 per hour.  There has been talk of how ‘ cute’ , ‘ sweet’ and ‘savvy’ an idea it is.  I am appalled by it.  Appalled.

Let’s consider the facts:

Every year, cows kill more people than sharks , snakes and bears combined.

In 2009 in Britain, 8 people were stomped to death, separately,  by their own cows in a three month period.

In the US, the CDC estimates that 22 people are killed by cows each year.  75% being deliberate attacks, 25% being accidental / incidental. While it is clear that bulls are dangerous, bulls are only responsible for 6 of the 22 bovine related deaths on average.

Why more cow related deaths than bull related ? Simple. People are naturally respectful and afraid of a bull, a cow is not held in regard as being threatening.  She should be.

These facts are available to anyone who wants to look them up on online.  What is not clear with any reporting entity is how many serious and tragic injuries involve cows each year in addition to the human deaths.  Those figures are sketchy at best, due to insufficient and unrequired reporting of medical facilities, but are frightening.

Cows are just generally  cumbersome, clumsy animals which, with no intention at all on their part, can cause serious injury to a human.  As my best friend states, ‘ They just don’t always know where their ends are.’  I am very careful around my girls, very aware of where they are in relation to me when I am working with them, yet I have suffered numerous accidental injuries:  I have had three toes broken by my sweetest mini Jersey cow who walked across my foot leaving the stanchion because I forgot to pull my foot back.  I have suffered bruised ribs and pleurisy from the trauma of being accidentally pressed against the wall of a barn by a cow just walking by and found another cow blocking her path.  I have suffered numerous deep tissue bruises and broken vessels on my arms and legs from incidental swipes of the hoof from a cow trying to kick a horse fly that had landed on her udder and a calf just doing his ‘ happy dance’ while I was standing too close turned my entire calf of my left leg black for nearly 8 months and required frequent checks by ultrasound and other tests to ensure no clotting had occurred.  One calf cut me severely with her teeth trying to mouth my hand when I had my back turned. Another young cow head butted me in the kidney while I had my back to her, for no understandable reason other than she was in a snotty mood and didn’t appreciate my presence.  This is the short list.

A happy or excited cow will burst into a dance that involves throwing the head and bouncing in such a way that they cannot know what is around them. This happens without warning and frequently.  Cows startle easily.  Anything out of their routine ( ie…strangers , the noise of an excited child) can set them off in a nervous state of confusion, defensive aggression or fight or flight mode.  Sometimes, just like any sentient being, they’re just cranky or having an off day and that will bring you a surprising head butt or side swipe from a normally lovely bovine.

I do not allow small children in the cow yards for all of the above reasons , plus some I didn’t touch on.  It is just insane to think a small child is safe around an animal who may not even see the child , inadvertently crush or kick the child, and which could step on the child top to bottom without effort, or which may view the child as a threat or as unwelcome in her space.  Those things aside, if a small child is standing next to a cow or calf and a fly bites the animal, that reflexive response by the bovine to jump and kick at the fly is a direct and unpredictable threat.  The ability of even a smallest calves to knock a child down and kick or step on him in completely innocent curiosity or play is a credible and serious threat.

Do I allow my own grandson to pet calves and hug them? Yes.  With direct supervision and in a controlled environment with me standing directly over them.  My grandson is not allowed to be in the parlor unless the cows are locked in the stanchion and he has to step out of the area before I release them.  Why? Here’s why: A while back I allowed him in for the process, sitting on a stool behind me.  A well trained  cow who had recently calved was walking out of the stanchion , made an effort to go around me as I habitually stood between her and my grandson while she was exiting and attempted to ram him with her head.  I guess she thought of him as an intruder and a threat to her calf who was waiting outside for her.  Thankfully, I was able to block her, but I took the brunt of her head in my forearm and shoulder as I ducked over him in protective mode.

I blame social media heretics and the ill conceived magazines geared toward the Ag hobby world for this proliferate trend of thinking of the family cow as we do the family dog. ( one in particular seems to have made it her mission to put a cow in every yard)        The propagation of the idea that ANYONE can and should own a family cow, whether you’re capable of providing for the animal’s intrinsic nature and needs or not is deplorable.

I have seen articles on FB and magazines of how to keep a ‘ Backyard cow’ in a garage meant for cars and tools.  I’ve seen the photos everywhere of women in flowing prairie dresses standing with miniature cows on pristine lawns.  This ain’t reality folks and it gives a false illusion of what keeping a bovine entails.  Yes, I take lovely photos of and with my girls, but I also share photos of their challenges and the trials of keeping them in a healthy, stable, humane environment.  There is mud.  There is manure.  There is a difference between neighborhood back yard grasses and carefully cultivated, nutritious pasture grasses; A cow can graze all day and starve on improper pasture. There is lobbying among the herd for dominance.  There is worry and injury to the farmer and the cow.  These ‘ backyard cow’ people don’t mention the bruises they obtained from milking that perfectly behaved Jersey the first few times they laid hands on her udder.  They don’t quote anyone about the wrestling match it was to train her or how they were so sore for days they could hardly sit down from stiffness and pain.  They don’t tell you the cow is not able to engage in her natural behaviors and is generally unhappy about her situation.  No, they don’t tell you the truth; they want to portray the disservice they are doing to these cows as romantic and a journey back to the old ways.  Well, lets look at the old ways.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, family cows were kept for the nutrition the milk provided a family and for the meat her offspring could provide.  It was all very practical.  Yes, the families , I am sure, largely bonded with their family cow, but she was livestock and treated as such.  She was turned out to pasture after her milkings with the other livestock to graze, not kept in a tiny back yard and barn all day.  The grazing was likely not much on the average farm, but it was sufficient and she had the company of goats and other livestock.  Occasionally, she would be walked to a neighboring farm to breed, I know folks who still do this.  Her life was pretty much grazing, milking and having calves.  They treated her like a cow.  And I’ll bet she was happy with that arrangement.

Am I saying you shouldn’t love your cows, pet them or brag on them? Hell no !  I am saying that they are cows, not dogs.  While I encourage you to show love and pride in the cow you own, I do not support inviting the general public in to do so; it’s stupid and it’s unfair to the cow.  I am saying let your cow be a cow, if she also wants to be YOUR pet, that’s awesome.  I am saying don’t buy a cow out of a romantic notion that it’ll be like owning a giant pet that provides milk and keep her in a tiny yard never meant for cows.  And for GOD’s sake, don’t buy a cow you have to keep in a converted garage attached to your  house.

If you can’t keep a cow humanely and properly, admire them from afar.

Basically, let cows be cows and respect them for what they are.