Monday, November 30, 2020
Home News Notes from the sticks: A battle with cattle

Notes from the sticks: A battle with cattle

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TWO weeks ago a man of 82 was killed by a herd of cows in a field not far from here. The man and his wife were walking their two dogs near the Ribblehead Viaduct in North Yorkshire when the cows, which had calves, went for them. The man died at the scene and his wife was taken to hospital with shock. One dog was injured.

Such incidents are sadly not uncommon. In a typical year five people are killed by cattle, and many more are injured, not to mention traumatised. A cow can weigh about two thirds of a ton and a bull well over a ton, plus they are equipped with rock-hard hooves and they can run fast when they want to. And they hate dogs.

My husband Alan had a graphic warning about the dangers of cows this week when he was out with our working cocker spaniel Bingo. This is his account:

‘After a brisk walk around the fell above our home, Bingo and I were returning down a farm track marked “public footpath”. It’s about 15ft wide with dry stone walls on both sides. A woman from the village was coming the other way with her dog and she warned me that cattle with calves were blocking the path further down. She said she had taken a substantial detour across two fields to avoid them but they had probably dispersed by now.

‘Sure enough, I soon came across a group which had largely left the path and headed back into their field through an open gate, so we pressed on. Rounding a bend, we were confronted by another herd of about two dozen, completely blocking the track and heading our way. I swiftly put Bingo on the lead and was trying to stare them down when one of them bellowed and ran straight at the dog. I remembered reading that in such a case you should always drop the lead as it gives both you and the dog more chance of escape. The cow reared up on its hind legs intending to crush Bingo with its front hooves. He dodged it but by now the whole herd were bellowing and trying to get at him. Their entire focus was on him and I was able to slip past. The noise was deafening. Somehow Bingo managed to avoid the flying hooves and ran down the hill. I could manage only a hurried stumbling walk given the rocky ground. To run would have almost certainly resulted in a fall followed by trampling from dozens of hooves. Thankfully the cattle also found the going treacherous and they were unable to catch up but they pursued us for some 200 yards, still bellowing, until we reached a gate and safety. 

‘I did consider going to confront the farmer and asking him to keep his livestock off the path but dog walkers around here tend to be told: “If you don’t like it, go somewhere else.” Which, sadly, is what we will have to do. At least we escaped shaken but unhurt, unlike that poor old chap at Ribblehead last month.’

Alan looked up cattle breeds later and thinks his assailants were Red Angus, which apparently are reputed to have a gentle temperament. Good job he didn’t encounter aggressive ones.

The problem is that walkers are allowed to cross farmland on public footpaths, and farmers are allowed to keep livestock on fields with footpaths. The exception is bulls of recognised dairy breeds (eg Ayrshire, Friesian, Holstein, Dairy Shorthorn, Guernsey, Jersey and Kerry), which are banned from being loose in fields crossed by public rights of way, but this does not apply to bulls of other breeds. Beef bulls may be kept in fields with public access as long as they are accompanied by cows. (I don’t know what the reasoning is for the difference.)

The Health and Safety Executive issues guidance to farmers, suggesting that they keep docile animals in fields with public access and display signs if a bull or cows with calves are in the area (I have never seen such a sign). Oddly, the guidance includes this: ‘Supplementary text should not suggest that the bull is aggressive, threatening or dangerous (ie avoid words such as “beware” or “danger”).’ Why on earth should this be? Is the bull likely to sue for defamation? Should walkers not be told if the animal is dangerous?

The received wisdom is that the danger comes from cows protecting their young calves, and that walkers with dogs are most at risk. However solicitor Mark Hambleton, whose firm handles compensation claims on behalf of people who have been injured or killed by cows, said in a 2017 blog: ‘In the last 12 months or so it has been really noticeable that clients have been describing to me the aggression of the cows and strength of the desire of the cows to attack them. These characteristics have been described in circumstances where there have been no calves present and/or where the walker was not walking a dog. This may go some way to challenging the anecdotal view that cow attacks usually happen only when there are calves and/or dogs present.’

His advice is to avoid cows as much as possible. He says: ‘I have recently settled a case in which a herd of cattle quickly covered 50 or 60 yards to attack walkers before they could get across the field safely. When my clients entered the field these cows were a considerable distance away and my clients perceived no threat of injury of coming into contact with the cows.

‘I have recently acted for a walker who thought he had passed safely through a field of cows when a number of them charged at him from behind so I would suggest keeping an eye on the cows at all times while you are in the field with them.’

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The gunneras have grown well this week; some of the leaves are now about maximum size. I need to cut back the overhanging tree.

This is last week’s picture:

and this is yesterday:

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The common twayblade orchids are now in their full glory. I am sure there are many more than last year. I have read that orchids have a habit of going dormant for years so maybe they were having a rest last year.

This is last week’s picture:

And this is on Thursday:

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Margaret Ashworth
Margaret Ashworth is a retired national newspaper journalist. She runs the Subbing Clinic in a hopeless attempt to keep up standards, and co-runs A & M Records where she indulges her passion for 60s pop.

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