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I live next to a farm and our house and garden is surrounded by pasture on three sides. I can simply reach over the fence and pet the cows however they don't seem to like get pet by me. They rarely get close enough (although they are often standing or walking close to our fence) and I could only pet or stroke them a few times. They seem to like my boyfriend however and he is able to pet most of them and he gets licks in return. There is even one cow that regularly visits us. When my boyfriend is outside and she sees him, she walks from the other side of the pasture just to get pet by him (it even became a joke in our neighborhood and for the farmer).

I want to earn the trust of them and pet them too but I don't know what I do wrong. I searched the internet but didn't found anything useful on this topic, only advice for farmers that didn't really applies to me.

How can I make the cows trust me more so I can pet them a little? It's the least I can do to thank them for the milk.

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Let the cow look at you, smell you, before you attempt to touch its head or body. Move slowly not to scare her. Pay attention to your body language and learn to read hers. If she doesn't want to be touched and shows sign of anxiety, don't push it. Use a calm voice. Start small and from an distance (you don't need to touch her on the first day, just interact from a short distance) and she will trust you more and more, as long as you respect her boundaries and her personal space ! Offering food would also probably help a lot as with most animals. Cows like apples and bananas, and probably a lot more things.

source: I petted quite a few animals in my time.

edit: I once have been "pushed away" by a cow I was petting, nothing violent, but I felt how strong she was. If you engage with them, be aware that a big animal like this is really strong, heavy and occasionally fast, and that can surprise you. Also do not approach the cow directly from the back as that is a blind spot for them and it will make them nervous.

Here's a document explaining the basics of cow body language. Easy to read and with informative pictures: https://nydairyadmin.cce.cornell.edu/uploads/doc_103.pdf

And another link with info on body language of cows and bulls here:https://nature.berkeley.edu/ucce50/ag-labor/7article/article29.htm

here are some quotes from that second one

cow's mood

You can get clues to a cow�s mood and condition by observing the tail. When the tail is hanging straight down, the cow is relaxed, grazing, or walking, but when the tail is tucked between the cow�s legs, it means the animal is cold, sick, or frightened. During mating, threat, or investigation, the tail hangs away from the body. When galloping, the tail is held straight out, and a kink can be observed when the animal is in a bucking, playful mood.

how to flee them

If cornered by a bull, it is best not to move too fast, but to back away from the bull�s flight zone which is about 20 feet in range. While moving away from the bull�s flight zone, you should watch the bull at all times until you get to a fence, crawl space, or other safe retreat. Turning and running invites being chased.

threat display

The threat display of the bull puts him in a physiological state of fight or flight. The threat display often begins with a broadside view with back arched to show the greatest profile, followed by the head down, sometimes shaking the head rapidly from side to side, protrusion of the eyeballs, and erection of the hair along the back.

The direct threat is head-on with head lowered and shoulders hunched and neck curved to the side toward the potential object of the aggression (Photo 2). Pawing with the forefeet, sending dirt flying behind or over the back, as well as rubbing or horning the ground are often components of the threat display

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  • Do you have some advice for reading cows body language? I'm good with reading most animals that I grew up with dog, cats, sheep, some birds and lizards etc but I found cows unexpectedly hard to read. All online resource I found were about sings of health issues. Couldn't find out anything about how to see if a cow is happy, angry, sad or playful. Food is a great idea, after I posted my question I found out they like apples. We have apple trees but I probably ask the farmer first if it's okay to give apples to them.
    – Takiro
    Aug 30 '19 at 8:58
  • @Takiro I edited my answer to add some documentation on the body language. The tail is a good indicator
    – Manuki
    Sep 3 '19 at 19:41
  • Cows love carrots, and like being petted in a way that mimics the way another cow licks them.
    – Tad Jones
    Sep 4 at 3:49
  • Also, when my cows want to petted, they will lick themselves. If I scratch the spot they lick, I usually find a stick or thorn stuck in the fur, maybe a bit of sap, or tick. I don't know for sure, but I believe their licking that spot is cow language for "can you get this itch for me?" Give them a carrot or two, let them smell and lick your hand, then when they lick themselves scratch where they lick.
    – Tad Jones
    Sep 4 at 3:54

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