I grew up in the  suburbs of Long Island, where the largest animals we had wandering around were dogs on leashes and it got as wild as a rare sighting raccoon in the backyard (which thankfully, I never encountered).  My upbringing was not really outdoorsy or rural or nature based.  Which means, I was not really exposed to farm animals or wild animals, outside of petting zoo/real zoo situations.

My biggest issue was an irrational fear of raccoons, which (in theory) I am over now.  I heard coyotes for the first time last fall, and while they sound scary, I was assured that they do not mess with people.  There are venomous snakes in Kentucky, but I’m not going to be poking around in snake habitat, nor do I plan on going herping alone or any time soon for that matter.  I have a general distrust of the great apes and most species of monkey, but that’s because I’ve seen what they can do to people when they’re kept in a captive situation, when people get too close, or they figured out how to exploit humans.  Unless I run into Sasquatch at my field site, primates will not be an issue.  Really, there are not that many animals I’m afraid of or that make me nervous.  That was why I did not think cows would be an issue for me.  As it turns out, I really really really do not like cows.

Whenever I see cows on TV, it’s usually the bulls used in Professional Bull Riding circuit that are trying to go after their rider or it’s a mother cow going after ranchers or vets because they touched her baby or it’s a dairy cow kicking out while it’s getting milked. Cows have and will continue to be on the list of animals I do not want to get up close and personal with.  I did not ever think I’d have to be around cows without a fence between us. Nor did I think I would ever be afraid of them. How wrong I was.

The first time I had a run-in with cows was at one of my bird watching spots, Taylor Fork.  Taylor Fork is  60 acres of old pastureland with fencerow strips of trees and small patches of woods and canebrakes, fenced off.  On the outside of the fence is pasture to graze cattle on, and you have to drive down the road in the pasture to get to Taylor Fork.  I’ve driven by the cows (I think they’re technically steers/heifers based on their size) before with no issue.  That all changed when the fire nation attacked  I finished bird watching one day.  There they were, surrounding my car and starting a ruckus with the cows in the field next to them.  Remember, that I am a child of the suburbs, and cows were foreign territory to me, other than what I had seen on TV (which painted cows in a rather unflattering light).  I could not sneak around to the driver’s side, there was a cow there.  There was also a cow near the trunk of my car as well.  How I wish I knew how to read cattle behavior as a left the safety of Taylor Fork and slunk towards my passenger side door.  How I wish I could run faster if a cow attacked.  How I wish there were no cows here.  I did safely make it into my car, and after some horn honking accompanied by slowly driving at them, the cows parted so I could make a hasty retreat out. But on that day, the seed of my cow fear was sown.

Soon after my first run-in, it was winter break and I went back to the cow-free suburbs of Long Island.  I thought I was done with having to deal with cows, when I arrived back at school the cows outside of Taylor Fork were gone (spoiler alert, they’re back now and even more into cars).  Then, I went out to my field site of the first time. As it turns out, it also grazes cattle, even more than at Taylor Fork.  It also has calves of various ages (which means protective mother cows), and as I recently discovered after driving by one of the cows last week, it also runs bulls. Luckily most of the cattle are polled, whether naturally or artificially.  That cuts down on my chances of being gored, I guess.

Unfortunately for me, the cows are free to graze around three of my feeders (I haven’t even thought of the nest boxes yet).  They also do not give a flying fart about moving when confronted by cars.  I know this because I had to drive in reverse down one of the roads until I got to a spot where I could turn around because a herd of cows refused to move.  The cows are also unafraid of honking cars or people yelling “Get away from me you stupid cow, my feeder is back there” while waving their arms and will approach anyway.  I know this because that was my Saturday.  Thankfully, the cows are generally not near my feeders, although I had a tense (in my mind) encounter filling up a feeder with an older calf nearby mooing for its mama in the field next to us.

I’m not sure how grounded in reality my fear of cows is.  It could just be like the raccoon situation, a completely irrational fear, based on perception bias.  Or it could be 100% super realistic and cows are blood thirsty creatures, ready to charge at any given moment plausible, and I should careful working around them.  This fear will have to be conquered.  I’ll be working at my field site for all of the spring and most of the summer,  and the cows are inevitable.  Still, I cannot wait for the day when the closest I’ll have to be to a cow is when they’re served medium-rare on plate or there’s a sturdy fence between us.  Anyone have any tips on how to get cows to moove it?



About Natalia Maass

Current graduate student at Eastern Kentucky University (2017) pursuing a Master's of Science in Biology. Talk nerdy to me.

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