Some of us only worry when we see horns, but Sarah Russell, running coach and clinical exercise specialist, says it’s not so straightforward
This is something I encounter on a regular basis where I live, where we share our public footpaths with farmers and cattle, and it’s a tricky one. Personally, I’m not a fan of running through fields with cows of any kind and have witnessed and experienced some nasty situations, including a friend being attacked and butted to the ground. There are other times however, when the cows don’t even look up from chewing on the grass and aren’t bothered by passing runners. So how do you know when it’s safe? I spoke to a couple of farmers about this to get their views.
While most of us might be wary of large bull, the big ‘no-no’ is actually never to go into a field where there are cows with calves, particularly in the spring (which is fondly known as cow trampling season). The mothers are very protective of their offspring and can be very aggressive towards anything they see as a threat. In fact, the HSE (health and safety executive) currently advise farmers not to put cows and calves together in fields that are accessed by the public, due to this danger. If you come across a field with cows and babies, don’t attempt to enter the field, find an alternative route and don’t take the risk. You are within your rights to find an alternative route away from a public footpath if it’s blocked by cows. Rejoin the path as soon as you feel it’s safe.
If you run with your dog, be particularly careful. During 2010-2015 there were 17 deaths involving members of the public and cows - almost all of them involved a dog alongside their owner. Cows are threatened by a dog and will be more aggressive towards you if you’re running or walking through with your canine friend.
If you are threatened by cattle whilst walking or running with your dog, then advice from the NFU and the Ramblers Association is to drop the lead and let the dog run away. The cows are likely to chase the dog, allowing you time to escape. Your dog is likely to be safer off the lead and come to less harm that way too.
Common sense prevails in all situations and it’s important to be cautious and respectful of all cattle at all times – even if you have previously been through the field and not been threatened. Their behaviour can change daily, due to weather changes, noise, experiences of other people passing through.
As you approach a field and you see cattle in it, stop, look and listen before entering it. Watch them for a while and see how they are behaving and moving. If they look unsettled, aggressive or pay attention to you, then be wary, particularly if you notice bulls or calves. It might be frustrating to change your run, but take an alternative route around the field or go back.
If you come across cattle on a path or within a field, then give them plenty of space. Walk – don’t run – away from them and avoid getting between individual animals in the herd. Move quietly and quickly and around the perimeter of the field or as far away as you can from the herd.
Always stay calm, quiet and move slowly around them rather than yelling, shouting or waving your arms. Remember that cows are unpredictable, large, strong and dangerous animals. Stay safe and respect them and their space. If you do experience a frightening incident, report it to the farmer or landowner and the HSE. They can take precautions, move the animals or erect electric fencing and prevent a more serious incident occurring in the future.