Many of the hiking tracks here in New Zealand cross private land. That’s no big deal in itself, but the thing is that the private land is usually farmland, which means there’s stock on it. Sheep are no big deal, but I’m scared of the cows. Yes, that’s what I said. I have a fear of cows. I really do tense up and get quite nervous when I have to walk through a field of them.
So you’re reading this and you’re already laughing your ass off at me. I get it. It’s ridiculous. I’m ridiculous. But bear with me a minute while I tell you all the reasons cows are scary creatures.
1. They’re huge.
I have an uncle who raises cows on my grandma’s land, and I remember once when I was quite young I was outside with the other kids and that uncle told me to get out of the way because he was going to drive the cows right through the space I was standing in. I moved, the cows stampeded up the hill at a speed that completely belies their bulk, and teeny tiny me was stunned and intimidated by their size and very relieved that I had moved. I think this must have had a long-lasting impression on me.
Have you seen the size of these things? Most of them are absolutely ENORMOUS, probably 8-10 times my size and weight. That means if a cow decided it wanted to push me around it would have absolutely no problem doing so and I would be helpless to defend myself.
2. They can move fast.
Usually when a cow walks it’s got a slow, lumbering gait and it stops every metre or so to graze. But if a cow wants to move, it can! They can run pretty fast. That means if a few of them decided to stampede towards me I don’t actually think I could outrun them. And the problem with a bunch of stampeding cows? Well, see reason #1.
And what if today, of all days, is the day the farmer decides to release his bull into that particular paddock, the one I’m walking through. What if that paddock that looks totally empty when I step into actually has a huge bull hiding behind a tree just waiting for a hiker (me!) to pass through so it can attack?
And what if that bull thinks I’m a threat to his harem of females? What if he decides that I don’t belong there (I don’t, really) and that he should charge?
And if you think cows are big (see #1), bulls are bigger. And faster (see #2)
My fear of cows is probably not helped by the fact that I am currently reading a book that mostly revolves around bullfighting.
3. They stare.
They’re kind of intimidating when they stare. Or, they can be. It’s probably curiosity but maybe it’s hostility, as in ‘What the hell are you doing in my paddock you human?’ Some cows have positively evil stares.
And they stare in gangs. One will turn to look, then another, and another, until every cow in the paddock is staring me down, threatening to rally the troops into a stampede that will come trample the intruder (me!) until nothing is left.
4. They’re overly curious sometimes.
Last year when I was visiting my grandma I decided to go out to the field and pick some blackberries. My mom had already been out there, and told me where the stick was that she’d used to wave at the cows to scare them off. What? This sounded silly to me, especially because this is where my mom grew up. Around cows. Why would she be afraid of them?
I took the stick with me and sure enough, the cows got curious and came to check out what I was doing. Did I mention that they’re enormous? They’re such bullies! Luckily I had my mom’s stick! Not wanting to get pushed into the blackberry bushes by cows, I waved the stick and they stayed away.
5. I met some evil cows in Wales.
When I was hiking part of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path in Wales I had to walk through several fields as well. On one occasion, I entered the paddock and way over on the other side I could see a herd of cows. Just about immediately, they started coming towards me. Not just coming, jogging towards me. Fast (see#2). All of them.
What was their plan? I don’t know, but I got across that field as fast as I could and got through the gate just in time to turn around and see those cows gathered on the other side, menace in their eyes, and disappointed that they hadn’t had the chance to trample me.
6. Cows will seek revenge.
This is the scariest one. When I was house sitting on the Banks peninsula I went for regular walks with one of the neighbours. She was afraid of cows, mainly because of reasons #s 1 and 2, and we would always turn back at whatever point we found we had to walk anywhere near a cow. But she was also afraid because of a recent accident.
Several months before, one of the farmers who looked after the stock on this neighbour’s land had gotten bashed into and pushed over by a cow (they’re HUGE, remember?), which broke her leg quite badly and she had to be airlifted by helicopter to a hospital. She took several months to recover.
Why did the cow do this? Well the previous week she’d been helping vaccinate some of the cows and they think this particular cow must have remembered her jabbing it with a giant needle and decided to get revenge. Who said cows are stupid?
Good thing I haven’t vaccinated any cows recently. But what if cows don’t differentiate between humans and were just vaccinated last week and decide to take out their anger on whatever human happens to pass through their paddock? What then?
So the thing is that I’m often alone when I’m walking through a paddock of cows. And if something did happen, if a cow decided it needed revenge for something a human had done or it just doesn’t like the look or smell of me and decided to charge I would be not only severely injured (see #1 and 2), but also unable to summon help and possibly not found until the next person happened to walk through that paddock, which, in the middle of winter, could be several days.
And I know full well that this is highly unlikely. I’m not an idiot, I’ve seen how the cows always run away after having a good long stare. I know that they don’t really realize that they’re much, much bigger than me and that they could do me some damage if they wanted. I know that at heart they’re actually calm and gentle creatures. And I know that in New Zealand if there was any threat to my safety in walking through a field of cows then there wouldn’t be a walking track through the field of cows!
So my fear of cows is silly, unfounded, and yet entirely real. I can’t help it, cows make me nervous. I step into that paddock with trepidation, always keeping a careful watch on their positions while also making sure to avoid eye contact in case they see it as a challenge. And I always breathe a sigh of relief when I cross that stile out of their territory.
And I can’t believe I just wrote over 1200 words about cows.
Are you afraid of cows? Or do you have any other irrational fears? Tell me about it in the comments!
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