Your Essential Guide to Walking around Cattle

I am and always have been an avid walker. I grew up in the heart of the Dorset countryside and from an early age was getting up to all kinds of mischief with my sisters and friends on long rambling adventures. Part of those rambles would at some point always lead us through a field of cattle. For us it was just normal. We grew up knowing how to act around cattle and it became second nature.

More and more nowadays we are being faced with article after article describing horrifying incidents where walkers are chased by cattle, sometimes even being hurt by them. I can never recall an incident growing up where I was at all concerned about walking through cattle, I don't remember being chased or intimidated at all. I suppose I was lucky in that it was just part of every day life. I appreciate that a lot of people are not that lucky, but still would like to enjoy the Countryside. I have put together this (what I hope is) helpful guide which will hopefully help you walk with confidence through a field where they may be cattle present.

Only walk on designated rights of way

There are thousands of miles of rights of way in Britain. These will pass through a wide variety of different places such as moorland, coastal areas and farmland to name a few. There are different designations of rights of way to which different rules apply.
  • Public footpaths - open only to walkers
  • Public Bridle-ways - open to walkers, horse riders and cyclists
  • Restricted by-ways - open to walkers, horse riders, cyclists and non-motorised vehicles such as horse drawn vehicles
  • Byways open to all traffic (BOATS) - open to all traffic including off road vehicles
  • Permissive rights of way - land privately owned where the land owner allows the public access. The landowner may impose any regulations he/she wants i.e. no dogs
Do your research before you set off on your ramble. Look at an OS map that will show you all the rights of way. Rights of way should be clearly marked by something such as an arrow or a wooden sign (it differs depending on where you are). 
Some of these rights of way will pass through farmland and quite rightly, some of this land will be used to contain cattle. 

A farmer is well within his rights to keep cattle on this land however there are a few restrictions. There are dairy cattle and beef cattle. A farmer can keep both dairy and beef cows (for those of you that don't know, a cow is female) on a public footpath, however he may not keep a dairy bull over 10 months old on a public footpath. Dairy bulls are known to be highly aggressive and this wouldn't be at all safe. A farmer may keep a beef bull on a public footpath regardless of age provided he is accompanied by cows or heifers (a heifer is a female up until she has had her first calf). A beef bull of over 10 months old may not be kept on a public footpath by himself. 

Regardless of whether it's a bull, heifer or cow, a farmer must take appropriate action if a particular animal is known to be aggressive towards humans. This may include erecting signs on gates to warn people of aggressive animals so make sure you heed any signs on gates!

I'm walking through the countryside and I see a field up ahead of me with cattle in it...

You can make a quick assessment of the general mood of the cattle from a distance. Are they sat down relaxing? Are they running around chasing each other? If the cattle are already in a state of agitation before you enter the field then you're asking for trouble. Only pass by cattle if they are calm and relaxed. Relaxed cattle will be grazing or cudding.

Do they have calves with them? Cows with calves will be hyper-alert. They are fantastic mothers which is great for the farmer and makes his job very easy, but difficult for walkers. If there are calves, give them as wide a berth as possible and NEVER walk between cows and calves.

What if they're stood round the gate?

Just open the gate and walk through as normal. Cattle tend to not enjoy being around people as a general rule so will tend to move away if you walk towards them. The best thing you can do is just act normal. Go about your business, pretend like the cattle aren't even there. If you act nervous and jittery the cattle will pick up on it and will become restless. Just be normal!!

So the cattle won't always be stood around the gate, sometimes they'll just be randomly placed in the field. In which case, your job is easy. Just walk casually and normally through the field at a normal pace at a good distance. Always give the cattle as wide a berth as possible, there's no point disturbing them if you don't have to. 

What if they start coming towards me?

What a lot of people fail to remember is that cattle are incredibly curious and intelligent creatures. For all you know, you are the most interesting thing they've seen all day. They may well come towards you to check out what you are and what you're up to. Just keep on walking normally. BE NORMAL. The worst thing you can do at this stage is run. If you start running, the cattle may well think it's a game to join in and start running too. 

But what if they DO start running?

It's very possible in rare circumstances that the cattle may well start running and bucking around, particularly if they are young flighty animals. If they do start running, then get yourself as quickly as possible to the nearest fence, wall or gate to safety. As I say, it's very unlikely they actually will start running but it's good to have peace of mind ahead of time.

Can I take my dog with me?

Yes, many cattle will be very used to dogs walking through their field. However, please be sensible. Remember that to cattle, dogs are predators. They are descended from wolves and are carnivores. I wrote a blog post a while back on walking with your dog in the countryside with a few tips. Click here. 

When walking past cattle, keep your dog on a lead. No dog's recall is 100% so the most effective thing is to have the dog on the lead at your side. A dog that is barking and dancing around and acting like a maniac will upset cattle, particularly if they have calves with them.

The only exception to this rule is if the cattle do start running towards you in an aggressive manner. In this event, let your dog off the lead to fend for itself and get yourself to safety.
Your dog can outrun the cattle, you can't!
How many times have I read about people getting hurt while protecting their dog? Countless. The cattle will chase the dog whether it's running free or on the other end of the lead. I know which one I'd prefer! Let the dog go, and it will find it's way to safety and probably distract the cattle while you make a swift get away.

When all else fails...

If you genuinely feel that you are not confident enough to walk through a field containing cattle, then it may be the best thing that you find an alternative route. It's really not worth the risk if you believe you wouldn't be able to get yourself to safety in time or the cattle are looking rather agitated already.

If you have a bad incident on a footpath with some cattle, do report it to the council or the land owner depending on who is responsible for the path. It's important for a farmer to know if his cattle are causing a problem.

Always leave gates as you find them. 

Cattle have always been and will always be part of our countryside. They are a common sight and I would be genuinely sad if this ever changed. We all just have to learn to be a little bit more respectful. I'm a firm believer that if you respect them, they'll respect you. When all is said and done, that farmer is simply making a living. He is supporting his family with those cattle. And let's not forget that farmers feed this country, Support British farmers!

I hope you have all found this little guide helpful. If there is anything that I have missed out or if you have any questions then feel free to leave a comment.
Have a good week.

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  1. This is brilliant Ellie! I've never felt nervous walking past cows but I know people who are! You make it SO clear!

  2. I think it's really important for people to understand the countryside and the things that live in it. People are becoming more and more removed from the countryside nowadays.


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