People shouldn’t take it for granted that cows are harmless, but a recent herd stomping that left a Colorado woman hospitalized seems extraordinary, some Wyoming cattlemen said.
“That doesn’t seem real,” Casper-area rancher Dennis Sun told Cowboy State Daily on Monday after reading about the incident.
Sun, publisher of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup, said nobody in his office had heard of such a thing either.
Statistically, cows pose a much greater threat to Americans than bears and sharks combined. Cattle reportedly kill roughly 20 people each year in the United States, while fatal bear and shark attacks average about two per year for each species.
‘Must Be More To The Story’
Witnesses say a woman who was jogging near the Coalton Trailhead in Boulder County, Colorado, was surrounded and stomped by about 30 cows June 8, according to news reports.
Because it’s calving season, the Boulder County Parks and Open Space put up signs warning people using the trails to give cattle plenty of space.
But even with numerous inexperienced people around cows and calves, the attack seems unprecedented, Sun said.
“There must be more to the story,” he said.
He and Wyoming Farm Bureau spokesman Brett Moline said it probably had something to do with mother cows trying to protect their calves.
Sun said he wondered if a dog was involved, even though reports don’t mention that.
“If she had a dog with her, maybe the dog went after the calves and set off the mother cows, and then the dog ran back to the woman for protection,” he said.
Moline said rapid movement, and perhaps even the color of the woman’s clothing, might have triggered the attack.
“Cows have instincts to protect their young. If there’s something strange out there, especially something that’s moving quickly, they want to protect their babies,” Moline told Cowboy State Daily. “They’re just like any other mother.”
He added that he was curious whether the woman was wearing red clothing, because the color red can set cattle off.
“People will poo-poo it, but there are different colors that animals don’t like, such as the color red. Even though they are supposed to be color blind, cows don’t appreciate the color red,” Moline said.
“Red isn’t that common of a color in that that large of a piece in nature,” he added. “It is something that stands out. It’s distinctive.”
Not Always Docile
For the most part, cattle are docile, but it’s still wise to be cautious around them, Sun and Moline said.
During his long career in ranching, Sun said he’s never heard of anybody getting killed or seriously maimed by cows, but he has heard of few people getting knocked around.
“Mostly, it’s been things like people trying to load a bull that’s on the fight, or trying to handle something in a corral,” he said.
Cows can also recognize particular people, Moline said, and will tend to be calmer around somebody they know.
“I walk though my son’s cows every day. At first, they were nervous, but after a while they got used to it and now they’re like, ‘Oh, it’s that guy again,’” he said.
“Familiarity is a big thing with cows,” he added. “They’ve gotten plumb used to me. But when the brand inspector came out the other day, he was walking through them with me and oh boy, he was different, so they didn’t want to have anything to do with him.”
Over the years, ranchers have bred aggressive traits out of cattle, Sun said. Now, cows are generally much more docile than they were in the Old West.
“The breeds you see most often in Wyoming, like angus and Herford, they’re not aggressive,” he said.
He recalled working with “Brangus” cattle – a crossbreed between angus and Brama, that weren’t so friendly.
“They could be pretty mean,” Sun said. “You had to watch those ones. But we shot some sedatives into them, and they settled right in with the other cattle.”
Cows, like all other animals, also have their own individual temperaments, Moline said.
“There’s some you can walk right up to in the field and scratch their heads,” he said. “And there’s others, if you’re going to get up close to them, well, you had better be in a pickup.”
Mark Heinz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.