I’ve recently joined a few blogger groups on social media, ones that are full of outdoorsy types rather than fashionistas and make up artists. One of the threads the other day caught my eye. It was about going walking in the countryside when you’ve got bovinophobia- a(n irrational) fear of cows. Initially I thought it was a bit daft. How can anyone be that terrified of cows? Then the replies trickled in…one poster after another admitting that they too really don’t like walking through cows. Some people offered advice, most of it sound and sensible. The odd suggestion was a bit odd, and potentially dangerous. I’ve come up with some advice of my own on how to stay safe when walking on farm land.
Plan your route and stick to it-Lots of working farms have public rights of way through them. These routes may be through grazing fields , across land used for growing crops or even through a busy farmyard. Farmers have a responsibility to make sure the area directly around a right of way or public footpath is safe. Stick to the marked route. If you go off the beaten track you could end up putting yourself in harms way.
Leave it alone- Farmers often leave machinery in fields where they are working, or on the farmyard. Don’t touch it! Even if they aren’t switched on, tractors and other bits of farm kit are dangerous. The same rule applies to animals. If you see an animal that you think is ill or in distress, its best to try and let the farmer or land owner know.
Read the signs- Signs are put up for a reason. Quite commonly they will be used to alert you to the presence of a bull in a field, something which I personally prefer to know about before getting any where near him (I don’t like bulls. Not one bit) . Sometimes they will also let you know if there are lambing ewes present or if the field has recently been sprayed. In these cases, you might want to take a detour.
Animal encounters- Try and be aware of what livestock are in a field before you enter it. Although they may look cute and fluffy, cows, sheep and even horses can be dangerous and can kill people. As a general rule, leave them alone and they’ll leave you alone. Most farm animals will be used to seeing people, especially if the route you are on is popular with walkers. Give them a wide berth- go round, rather than through a herd or flock.
If you spot calves in a field , be aware that any cows with calves at foot will be more wary and protective of their offspring. The mothers may stop and turn to watch you, but generally they will leave you be unless they feel you are threatening them (ie coming too close) Never put yourself between a cow and calf. If you have a dog with you, they may be even more interested and alert.
Sometimes groups of cows (usually bullocks or heifers) may run towards you. Although it might look like it, it isn’t a stampede as such- they are most likely just being playful and nosy. Try and stay calm, and walk quickly and quietly through the field. This is easier said than done. I recently got caught out taking the mini farmers on a walk to a local castle, located in a farmers field. We made it to the castle uneventfully, it was only when I turned round to go back I realised we weren’t alone- at least 10 young bullocks were ambling towards us.I managed to carry /drag the kids and buggy across the field, all the while being followed by these hooligans. They gambolled along, snorting and skipping, really looking like they were enjoying themselves. That situation could have been a lot worse. Playful calves don’t sound too scary until you realise that each of them weigh half a tonne.
I would also recommend carrying a stick when walking amongst cows. If you do find yourself surrounded by inquisitive animals it can be used to gently nudge them out of the way. Its also good for making yourself look bigger (and feel braver) if you do get charged by cows.
One woman and her dog– You can never be 100% sure how dogs will behave around farm animals, so adopt a ‘safe rather than sorry’ approach and put them on a lead. Sheep chased by dogs can miscarry their lambs, suffer from shock and die. Worst case scenario, a dog may attack and savage a sheep. Keep them on a lead to make sure you keep control. Even if you think they are the best, most well behaved canine that ever walked the planet. A farmer can and will shoot any dog that they feel poses a risk to their stock.
Keeping your pet on a leash will also help protect lapwings and other ground nesting birds. Their nests and eggs lie amongst the grass, which can be disturbed and destroyed by dogs.
The only time you should let go of the lead is if you are challenged by cows. In this instance, your pet will be better able to protect themselves if they are off the lead, and you are at risk of sustaining life threatening injuries if you try to hold onto them.
These are just a few pointers, for more in depth advice check out the Countryside code.