I've walked my dog through cow fields in my local area pretty routinely for the last couple of years - following proper rights of way. Normally we circle away from the cows, and definitely don't 'pester' them.

A couple of times recently, we've gathered a bit of an entourage - several of the cows have followed us across the field.

And on a couple of occasions, some of the cows have been frolicsome. They've sort of bounced across towards us - not generally directly at us - and have been tossing their heads a bit.

I'm not normally bothered by cows, but they're still fairly hefty and getting 'bounced into' I suspect might be almost as painful as being directly attacked. So this was a little intimidating.

I'm really not sure if it was playfulness and curiosity or aggression. Nothing really came of it, but we did walk fairly briskly along the edge of the field and out the other side. (Normally - going around the edge to avoid the cows entirely, but that's not always possible).

Is anyone able to enlighten me as to when I should be worrying about cows?

Edit: Several breeds of cow in the local area - some I understand slightly unusual.


To answer questions in comments:

  • Mixed cattle, but I didn't spot a bull - just steers and cows. (Some fields do include a bull with their herd).
  • The above I'm pretty sure are beef cattle - they're actually these guys: Willow Hill Farm
  • I'm aware cattle can get aggressive with dogs - this is why we usually skirt the edge of the field (when we have to cross it at all). In both these cases, they came to investigate.
  • I was following legal rights of way, and not trespassing. (Well, aside from perhaps in the very minor sense of 'going around the edge of the field' rather than following the ROW through the middle of the herd).
  • Just wanted to note that cows are naturally curious and can be playful. youtube.com/watch?v=qs_-emj1qR4 and youtu.be/GoV4pUburGg?t=50s are good videos
    – rlb.usa
    Sep 9 '15 at 18:07
  • Are these Cows (breeding or milking females) Cattle (mixed sexes), Bulls, Steers, or some combination of these? Also what breed or color? A picture would be really helpful. Sep 9 '15 at 18:28
  • 1
    In my experience, cows behave like this because they mistake you for the farmer and are expecting food. The poor things have followed me many a time only to stand by their trough in desolation as I leave the field :O
    – Piper
    Sep 9 '15 at 18:34
  • 2
    You should keep a fair distance between you and cows if you are walking with your dog. Cows sometimes feel threatened by dogs and can attack the owner. This year a woman was killed by cows in Austria. She was with her dog and the cows which had calves went mad.
    – Ariser
    Sep 9 '15 at 18:56
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    I've added a photo. I think mixed sex (I wasn't looking too close) but cows and steers/bullocks are common. I don't get too close to the cows if I can avoid it, but it's rather a different matter if they come over to take a look :)
    – Sobrique
    Sep 9 '15 at 20:51

It has been several years since I interacted closely with cattle, so hopefully someone else will come by and give a better answer, but here is some basic info.

As with any domestic animal how they are handled by their people as well as genetic predisposition and individual personality can all impact how they are likely to interact with a stranger.

The picture gives a lot of information, first note these are dairy cattle, they are black and white without very meaty body parts. They have been bred to be milked daily, milk production and handling are valued over muscle mass. They do not have horns, indicating they are Polled and the owner expects to be close to them often and handle them regularly. Link in updated question indicates they are beef cattle with horns.

Most (all?) of these have a tag in the ear, tracking each cow as an individual is important with milk and breeding cattle, not so much with steers who are just hanging out in the pasture and waiting to get to butcher size. A field full of steers is less likely to be handle regularly, indicating a higher risk of in appropriate behavior.

What I don't see in the picture is full udders, but the cows are all looking at the camera so this is not surprising. There are automatic milking machines, that don't require that a farmer to ever come in physical contact with the cow, but the image in the question implies a small family farm. If you see udders that would require milking without young calves running around, then you can assume the cows are handled 2 or 3 times per day at this farm.

If you don't see udders, these could all be young steers and heifers who spend a lot of time in the pasture without daily interactions with people.

Most of my cattle experience is with small groups that have been handled extensively. Behaviors are similar to a dog or sheep, they are less aggressive then goats. Any of the aggressive behaviors like blowing or foot stomping as you have probably seen on TV, would be signs for concern. In general I would expect these cattle to be interested in people, they may walk near you and like to be petted, they are likely to step on your foot if you are not careful. They are unlikely to act aggressively if you don't threaten them.

Lastly if you went through the fence it was probably a barbwire fence, which will not contain cattle if they desire badly to be on the other side. So don't assume you can escape an animal you have angered by crossing it.

  • I'm pretty sure these are beef cattle. They're a small herd though (they're a rareish breed). There's probably no routine contact with people - aside from feeding and other footpath users. But I'm not trespassing - I'm following a legal right of way. (Not that that necessarily helps matters - just I was being 'legit' about it) . There was no blowing or stomping - I'd have picked up on that right away.
    – Sobrique
    Oct 8 '15 at 10:02

Their target might be your dog. Mostly cows wants to keep strange dog like animals away from them.

Cows which gave birth to calf recently or the cows which are in delivery period are usually aggressive on dog like animals and also on strangers. This is due to the motive of saving its calf.

And sure cows(except calves) will not be playful with a stranger.

This behavior is with Indian breed cows(especially 'kangayam breed'), possibly it exist in all cows but not sure about other country farm cows.


A cow is not typically aggressive but it is a large powerful animal. It is territorial and very protective of its young. 22 deaths a year animals-that-are-most-likely-to-kill-you-this-summer A cow is also pretty fast so if you do piss it off it can run you down. Chance of a cow getting aggressive is low but the problem you have there is the power of the animal. Don't wait to tell if they are aggressive as once they get aggressive it is too late. I get they are farm animals but they came from the wild defending from wolves and they can defend themselves.


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