Does Cow Tipping Hurt the Cow?

We’ve all heard of cow tipping and the jokes about knocking these farm animals over while sleeping. 

But while some people may joke about sneaking onto farms and tipping cows, others are concerned if this hurts the poor, unlucky cow chosen for this prank. 

Despite the prevalence of the myth of cow tipping, this practice does not actually exist. Cows sleep lying down and are way too heavy to push over. However, if cow tipping were possible, it would hurt the cow. 

Read on to learn why cow tipping is a myth, the legend’s origins, and the legality of cow tipping.

does cow tipping hurt the cow

Why It’s Impossible To Tip a Cow

Let’s say you sneak onto a farm field in the country late at night. 

It’s dark, and you are trying to find a sleeping cow to tip over. 

Unfortunately, every cow you see standing around is awake. 

What gives?

The entire premise behind cow tipping is flawed. 

Despite media portrayals and urban legends, cows do not sleep standing up. 

They sleep on the ground, typically with their legs bent. 

Sometimes they sleep on their sides with their legs straight out, making them look like they would have trouble getting up. 

Even if cows slept standing up, it would be hard to sneak up on these prey animals and get close enough to shove them over. 

By the time you get close enough, they’ll wake up and run away. 

If you are unfortunate enough to choose an aggressive bull, you’ll get more than you bargained for. 

Continuing with the hypothetical, let’s say you found a cow asleep standing up and managed to sneak up on it. 

Good luck tipping it over. 

The average cow weighs 1,200 pounds. 

The horizontal force one person can exert varies by person, but some studies have found 100 pounds to be the average for a healthy person. 

No matter how strong you are, it would be hard for even four people to tip a cow, especially if they’re trying to shove it before it wakes up quickly. 

The most you’ll get is a moo and a kick!

Further Reading: What causes a cow to moo?

Where Did This Urban Myth Originate?

The idea of certain animals being unable to get up if pushed over dates back centuries. 

Julius Caesar believed elk could not get up on their own if they fell, and other people perpetuated this belief with other animals. 

The American version of the urban legend, specifically cows, seems to have originated in the 1970s. 

Movies and shows ran with the idea, using characters’ adventures with cow tipping as comic relief. 

A game of telephone started, and it continues to this day. 

Have you ever met someone who personally tipped a cow? 

Cow-tipping stories are always about a friend of a friend’s cousin or some variation of numerous degrees removed from the storyteller. 

Now, it is completely ingrained in the cultural zeitgeist, making it impossible to eradicate believers of cow tipping in modern times. 

Is Cow Tipping Illegal?

Since cow tipping isn’t possible, there are no laws against it. 

However, there are laws against trespassing. 

Pastures are private property, and you need the owner’s permission to legally be there. 

Cow tipping folklore often includes alcohol and underage drinking or drunk driving. 

Although not directly related to pushing a cow over, these prospective tippers are often breaking multiple laws simultaneously. 

Some might say it also violates animal cruelty laws, but this has never been tried in a court of law. 

If this cow tipping activity worked, it would certainly be considered an act of cruelty, which we’ll discuss shortly. 

If you are looking for a cow-tipping expedition, you don’t have to worry too much about ending up in jail over it, but it’s still not a good idea. 

Would Cow Tipping Be Cruel?

In theory, the fun of cow tipping is watching the animal struggle to get up after being pushed over. 

Let’s stop and think about this for a moment. 

Why would you want to hurt this poor animal? 

Why would you enjoy watching it be helpless?

While humans can’t tip over a cow, it is possible for cattle to accidentally do it to themselves. 

Since cattle have relatively short legs and bulky bodies, they can’t roll over. 

On flat ground, this isn’t a problem. 

On hills, though, they can find themselves in bad circumstances.

Cows lie down a lot during the day to rest. 

They can get stuck if they lie down and roll to their side with their feet facing uphill. 

Then they need help from a farmer to get back up again. 

When this happens, it could seriously harm them and even lead to death. 

Purposely causing a cow to be stuck on its back would be cruel. 

What’s a Downer With Cows?

Trauma and illness can cause a “downer” or a cow who can’t get up. 

Sometimes this happens because of muscle damage from calving, leg injuries, or infection. 

If a downer is completely on its side, tip it up onto its chest with its legs underneath as much as possible. 

Leaving a cow to lie on its side puts it at risk of developing bloat, a potentially fatal condition.

Downer cows can recover from their injuries, but not always. 

If you have a downer, contact your veterinarian for advice on how to help them recover or to humanely put them down. 

Cows’ Sleep Requirements

Like we talked about earlier, cows sleep lying down. 

They will lie on the soft grass if they are out in the pasture. 

If they are kept inside, they need fresh, clean bedding of straw, sawdust, or wood shavings. 

Further Reading: Where cows like to sleep and how to help them

Studies have found cows sleep four hours per day. 

They also drowse, or rest, for 8 hours a day. 

This means they spend half of every 24 hours lying down. 

Unlike humans who sleep overnight, cows practice polyphasic sleep. 

They sleep in small increments throughout the day rather than in one large chunk. 

Read next: Do cows cry or feel sadness?

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Growing up amidst the sprawling farms of the South, Wesley developed a profound connection with farm animals from a young age. His childhood experiences instilled in him a deep respect for sustainable and humane farming practices. Today, through, Wesley shares his rich knowledge, aiming to inspire and educate others about the joys and intricacies of rural life.

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