Monthly Safety Blast – Cows are dangerous and that’s no bull!

If you are a shark week enthusiast you might believe that sharks are one of the most dangerous creatures on earth, but what about cows?

Show me the “cowfacts”!

  • According to the National Agricultural Safety Database, one in three farm injuries involve animals and cattle are the main contributor. 1
  • Bulls were responsible for 48% of the deaths from cattle, according to the U.S. Department of Labor Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries and the Surveillance of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses databases.2
  • According to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), from 2003-2008, 20 to 22 people were killed by cows and most of these cases involved a bull.
  • The most common activity taking place during the attack was when workers were tending to or treating the animals, most likely in close quarters. The most frequent cause of death was blunt force trauma to the chest from being kicked or trampled.
  • 75% of cow attacks were thought to be intentional. Many of these fatal injuries were caused by bulls and cows with newborn calves. 3
  • On average, an adult bull weighs around 1,100-2,200 lbs. Mature cows generally weigh around 1,400 lbs.4

While cattle are generally thought to be docile animals, the expression, “when you mess with the bull, you get the horns”, is not to be taken lightly. When stressed or agitated, these large animals can instinctively become much more dangerous. So here are some ways to avoid putting our hoofed friends in a bad moo-d!

How To Lower Risks

  • Avoid making sudden movements or loud noises.
  • Always have an exit plan. Be cautious not to get pinned between a stationary object and the cow.
  • Never turn your back on a bull or run; this will encourage them to chase you.
  • Carrying a sorting stick or cattle flag can make you appear bigger.
  • Watch their body language for signs of aggression.

Signs of Aggression

  • Turing broadside to show their power and size
  • Pawing at the ground, often throwing up dirt
  • Rubbing head or horns on the ground
  • Snorting
  • Ears pinned back
  • Lowered head and hunched back shoulders

Bad Moo-d Triggers

  • STRESS! Stress can be caused by bad weather, discomfort, or fear.
  • Handlers getting between/near a calf and its mother can create a dangerous situation.
  • RUNNING! Do NOT run away from a cow or bull!
  • Feeling cornered increases stress. Most cows try to avoid conflict, but cows that feel trapped may react violently.
  • Getting in between a cow and its food can make the animal feel territorial.
  • Approaching a cow in its blind spot; cows cannot see approximately 60° directly behind them.
  • Improper handling or lack of human contact can result in moody animals. Buying cattle from trusted ranchers can lead to calmer and more docile herd.
  • The breeding season also leads to hormone changes that can cause both bulls and cows to be aggressive.
  • Untrained dogs near cattle can prompt cattle to act more aggressively.
  • One skittish cow can cause others to act more nervously.
  • Entering a cow’s flight zone, while it is often necessary, can cause increased stress. Avoid close contact when possible.

Additional Risks

  • Even the calmest cows can trample people and other animals if they begin to fight amongst themselves.
  • Cows often throw their heads to control flies or scratch an itch. Even unintentionally getting hit by a cow’s head can cause serious injury.
  • Cows can become spooked and stampede anyone in their path.
  • Cows of all sizes can cause injury.

While dairy bulls are often considered more aggressive and dangerous than beef bulls, the advice in this article applies to both dairy and beef producers.

Overall, a happier cow is generally a safer cow. Limiting stress on cattle has huge impacts on their temperament. Cows with less stress and agitation are also shown to not only be more docile, but also have a higher rate of gain and better palatability. Even with little to no stress, caution should still be used when working with cattle.5


Written by: Thomas Himes, 2023 CASH Intern