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Switzerland survival guide: How to avoid a cow attack

Updated on May 18, 2012

When cuddly cows turn into aggressive monsters

My recent hub “Why Swiss cows wear bells” may have led you to believe that cows are adorable creatures with a heart of smooth milk chocolate. While this description will probably fit 98% of the cow population, there seems to be an increasing number of cow attacks which shouldn’t go unmentioned. Not being a cattle expert but a logical person, I can only assume why cows are all of a sudden turning into monsters and running “a-mooooooo-k”.

As a keen hiker and mountain biker, I’ve had many harmless cow encounters: E.g. a nosy cow grabbing the back of my shirt and leaving slobber all over it, or a cow licking and sucking my husband’s boots while he was taking a nap in the sun. I also remember a scary experience with my cheeky Dachshund who was enthusiastically chasing cows around until the whole herd turned on her. Since the pooch tried to hide behind me, we were now both in trouble and had to escape over an electrified fence... While researching and writing this hub I realize that I triggered all the above with my own behaviour, mainly due to sheer ignorance. Maybe it’s time that the National Swiss Tourist Office publishes a flyer on national Cow Etiquette.

What are your chances of being killed by a cow

Tiny Switzerland alone has a hiking trail network of over 60’000 kilometers. If numbers don’t mean much to you, just imagine flying from Los Angeles to New York – 15 times! Or just try walking around the globe 1.5 times. Sounds exhausting. We are talking of a seriously long distance here. Hiking and jogging have always been very popular in Switzerland but mountain biking has virtually exploded over the last 16 years. Given the fact that most trails lead through private land, including cow pastures, we have a recipe for disaster waiting to happen. As I outlined in my previous hub, Swiss cows are privileged - they go on summer vacation to the alps. So do the tourists - Bingo. While Switzerland is certainly not the wild west, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out why there are some pretty scary encounters between man and beast.

Only in Switzerland...

Sherlock Holmes lost his life being pushed over the Reichenbach falls.
Sherlock Holmes lost his life being pushed over the Reichenbach falls.

Cows and the media: Old legends and modern myths

Currently there is no concrete statistical data available how many people have been trampled to death, pushed of cliffs, stabbed by horns, chased around pastures, stalked, surrounded and held captive, but there have been many interesting stories covered by the local media. That’s when facts become fiction. After all Switzerland is a very civilized country with not much headline news and people want to be entertained.

In my opinion, probably the most famous victim of a cow attack was Sherlock Holmes. I’ve got my very own theory here. According to history, on May 4, 1891, the detective met his arch enemy Professor Moriarty on a ledge above the Reichenbach falls. The two became locked in a titanic hand-to-hand struggle before both tumbled over the precipice, presumably to their deaths. Since there were no witnesses to the struggle and no bodies found who says that there wasn’t a cow involved somewhere along the line?

Important safety tips

Now, all this shouldn’t discourage you from going to Switzerland or taking up hiking and mountain biking. The new phenomena of cows running amok is not limited to the Swiss alps, but to all of Europe. I’ve singled out Switzerland, as amazingly it is still a neutral country that has resisted joining the rest of the European Community for many years. Grazing cows are part of Switzerland like the Matterhorn or Cheese and Chocolate. Given the amount of trails divided by the number of cows, your chances of being killed by a horned beast are probably one in a million. That’s far less dangerous than flying between Los Angeles and New York or walking around the globe.

As most cow attacks are triggered by human behaviour, the Swiss department for accident prevention in co-operation with the farmers association has published some simple rules:

Beware of bulls and steers, they are usually more aggressive.

Don’t try to pat cows, especially the Angus breed which is known to be more dangerous.

When crossing a cow pasture, don’t leave the trail.

Never approach calves and keep a safe distance of 20 – 50 meters. Like all mothers, a cow will do anything to protect her offspring.

Don’t startle or scare cattle and avoid direct eye contact. If you are approached by nosy cattle, stop and wait until you can pass safely. Face the cows, never turn your back.

A hiking stick makes a good weapon. In emergency use it to hit the attacker’s nose with one well aimed slap. Don’t wave your stick around wildly, this will only infuriate the animal.

Always keep your dog on a leash. A dog chasing a cow may trigger a dangerous stampede. Dogs trigger a natural sense of defence in cattle. If cows attack your pooch, release it from the leash and let it run away. This will also divert the cows attention from you.

And last but not least my very own advice: Enjoy your hike and keep yodelling. This may save you from getting hit by a rogue mountain biker.

Don't want to meet a cow here...!
Don't want to meet a cow here...!


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    • novascotiamiss profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Nova Scotia, Canada

      Geoff, thank you for your comment. What a nightmare! I hope this will make people more aware that cuddly cows can turn into beasts. I wish you a speedy recovery and hope that you will also soon overcome your fear. I seems that in Switzerland mainly non-indigineous Angus cows are responsible for cow attacks.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I am recovering from cracked ribs and a punctured diaphragm after five days in hospital three weeks ago - a helicopter air rescue saved my life.

      I was coming down a mountain near my home in Yorkshire England, where I have often walked with my dogs before, and passed through a herd of fifteen cows. The dogs were on leads - we were surrounded and jostled, and I let one dog off and picked up the other, a Jack Russel, whereupon I was shouldered over by the lead cow, and then trampled upon and kicked by others. Guess I was saved because I was wearing a rucksack which cushioned me. I can still hear the noise the cows made and feel the thuds as I rolled over on the ground.

      Of course there were a couple of calves with them - of course I should have let the dogs off straight away - but this all occurred in a couple of minutes in a place where I felt safe. I'm fortunate to be writing this. I wont get myself in such a situation again and I trust this warning will help others - the hospital told me it is becoming more and more frequent and I was lucky to be alive.

    • CMENYART1 profile image


      7 years ago from North Cackalackie

      This Hub is truly amazing. As someone born and raised in Wisconsin and who has been chased by a stampede of cows(we don't have those hippie Vermont and Cali cows), I say much respect for the great hub. Voted up.

    • novascotiamiss profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Nova Scotia, Canada

      Herman, the best way to survive a cow attack is not to trigger one in the first place (by following a few simple rules described in the last chapter of my article). Also, as mentioned, a hiking stick makes a good weapon. In emergency use it to hit the attacker’s nose with one well aimed slap. Don’t wave your stick around wildly, this will only infuriate the animal. Like with most other animal encounters in the wild, human stupidity is often responsible for attacks. While hiking in the Swiss alps I've had cows nibble on my shoes or trying to eat the shirt of my back. I didn't panick and retreated slowly, knowing that they are just nosy. The result was slobber all over me and a good laugh. Vicious cow encounters are rare. Emergency phone calls from stupid tourists finding themselves surrounded by a herd of nosy cows are becoming more and more frequent. Herding cows should be treated like wild animals and never approached. People tend to forget that, as they look so cuddly.

    • profile image

      herman lod 

      7 years ago

      i did not read it all but from what i read it did not say how to survive a cow attack apart from that i liked it!!!

    • novascotiamiss profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Nova Scotia, Canada

      J.B. Cows can be sweet and loving as well. Just read my hub "Why Swiss cows wear bells". You'll probably enjoy it.

    • Mrs. J. B. profile image

      Mrs. J. B. 

      8 years ago from Southern California

      Thank You. How informative and educational... I always thought cows were sweet and loving...

    • Cameron Dean profile image

      Cameron Dean 

      8 years ago from New York

      Very funny, although that reminds me of an occasion, I was visiting Greece…I was posing for a picture in front of a quaint farm when I see my husband lower the camera and look beyond me, not saying a word, just frozen. I turned around and saw a cow coming straight towards me, well did I run, I made it to the car in .0 seconds.

    • dearabbysmom profile image


      8 years ago from Indiana

      I must admit I've never considered the possibility of a cow attack. But now that I know it exists, this is solid and useful information! Thank you for writing.

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      8 years ago from San Francisco

      Hahaa!!! Great Hub! Hey, everyone could use some cow safety tips. After all, I know not one but TWO people who have been attacked by angry cows and had bones broken. Tehee ^_^


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