How to Not Be Afraid of Cattle

Fear of cattle, or Bovinophobia, is a type of phobia that causes people extreme anxiety or fear when being around or even thinking about being around cattle on a farm or ranch. It is probable that, like most phobias, the fear derives from the lack of understanding and knowledge of bovine behaviour. With increasing urban living that vastly outnumbers the rural population, (over 80 to 90 percent of people are living in cities or suburbs in many industrialized countries such as the USA, Canada, and Australia[1]) many people have never had the interaction with farm life and, consequently, have no experience or knowledge of how cattle behave when there are people around. Others are all too ready to extrapolate the rare media tales of accidents with cattle to convince themselves that there's a far larger danger than what is reality.[2]

Obviously, the size and weight of cattle makes them appear more intimidating in comparison to a dog or a cat, so there is some merit in being cautious, especially with bulls and cows with calves. What isn't practical though is the belief that when a herd of cattle comes up to them, they think they are going to be trampled to death because the herd is "charging" at them. This is because most people don't understand that usually a herd of cattle have quite often been taught that every time someone comes up to the fence, they'll get a treat. Whether you're being greeted by a herd of cattle, find yourself amidst some cattle, or you're simply wanting to no longer be scared of cows. Some tips below are good to start with when casting off the fear of cows.


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    Understand that phobias are both common and usually easy to treat.[3] Avoiding visiting a farm, getting close to cows, or giving yourself nightmares about them is not necessary as your anxiety can be cured. Consider getting treatment from a mental health professional as well as taking the steps suggested in this article. Some of the therapies that have proven successful in treating phobias include cognitive behavioural therapy and Virtual Reality Exposure therapy; some people also respond to a combination of therapy and anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medications.[4] Apart from the professional help though, it's really a case of facing your fear, which the rest of this article is aimed at helping you with.
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    Learn the behaviours and body language of this bovine species. Knowledge is the best way to put your fears behind you. Most of the time when a bovine comes up to you they're curious about you, or they think they're going to get some treats from you (like a handful of grass, for instance).
    • When a bovine is snorting, growling, or pawing the ground or throwing its head at you, or even giving you that look that looks like they're glaring at you, then move away from the fence and avoid eye contact. In the animal world, when you maintain eye contact with another animal that is visibly challenging you, that's deemed a threat. If you do not move away or make a threatening gesture towards that animal, this will often lead to an attack.
    • The ones to be most concerned about are: Cows that are protecting their calves or bulls that are growling at you. Head tossing, pawing, showing their sides, growling, etc., are all warning signs that if you don't get out of their way or away from their space, they will charge. If an animal is not showing any these signs, then it's best to not worry about being attacked. Often even thinking negative thoughts will lead to negative behaviour from an animal.
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    Envision being near cattle in a hierarchy of situations, numbered one to ten.[5] Ten represents your worst fear, and one is the situation that makes you least anxious. So, you might envision the following hierarchy of gradual situations:
    1. Ringing up a farmer or rancher and asking him/her to visit their farm
    2. Arriving at the farm where you see cattle out in the corrals or pastures
    3. Walking into a barn where there are cattle in stalls, or out to the pasture where cattle are grazing.
    4. Watching him/her feed and interact with, as well as talk to you about their animals.
    5. Watching the cattle being moved from the barn to the field, or from one pasture to another.
    6. Walking up to the fence where the cattle are grazing
    7. Calling out to the cattle while holding out some treats through the fence
    8. Watching the cattle come over to you
    9. Allowing the cattle to take the feed from your outstretched hand
    10. Patting or petting a cow that the farmer reassures you is fine with human contact.
    • Remember, this is just an envisioning exercise, but it allows you to gradually work through the various levels of fear, especially in conjunction with thinking of a relaxing or peaceful image, then the anxious image, and so on, per each visualization until you feel comfortable with all of them.
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    Pay a visit to a farm or ranch that has cattle you can start working with to rid this fear. Nothing works better than facing your fears. Doing so makes you a stronger and more confident person! Call a local farm or ranch and let the owner know what you're hoping to achieve; be polite and explain yourself clearly so that you don't leave the farmer wondering what the issue is. Make arrangements to go to the farm or ranch and spend some time around cattle. Be sure to ask the producer if they can spare some moments to be with you while you observe their cattle; they may be able to talk you through and teach you some bovine behavior to help ease your nerves.
    • The farm or ranch visit should be at least 40 minutes in duration.[6] Even longer would be better.
    • If you can't make it to a farm or ranch, wait for a local animal show or agricultural fair to come near you, and visit the cattle in their stalls or pens as they wait to be showed.
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    Relax and be calm. There are two factors to remaining calm. The first is that all phobia therapy teaches you to relax and breathe. Using both relaxation and breathing techniques will allow you to relax more effectively and breathe at will.[7] Secondly, animals are much more sensitive to your energy than you think! You need to be calm and relaxed when working with and being around animals.
    • If you are nervous, tense, excited, anxious, angry, frustrated, frightened, depressed, etc., then they will mirror your behaviour. An animal will always tell you what you are feeling by the behaviour they exhibit because they live in the present, never the past nor the future.
      • Humans are the only animals that are able to live in the future or the past. Most phobias are enhanced by a person worrying about what is going to happen in the future, thus causing tension, anxiety and fear. If you learn to not anticipate what is going to happen in the future nor think negative thoughts, things will work out better than you initially expected.
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    Breathe. As already noted, breathing properly is an important part of controlling a phobia. If you are starting to feel tense or nervous or anxious, take a deep breath and let it out. Stop for a moment and let yourself calm down.
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    Watch the cattle and their movements. You've done the learning about cattle behavior, and now is the perfect opportunity to put your knowledge to the test. Are they just standing there staring at you, or are they milling about? Is there just one at the fence line acting aggressively (see above for indicators), or are there several that are not threatening you and merely following you as you walk along the fence?
    • If you see a herd of cattle standing at the fence staring at you and starting to follow you when you walk away, these animals are not acting dangerous. They just want some handouts from you!
      • Such a herd will also be swinging their heads back at the flies or to lick themselves, switching their tails nonchalantly, scratching themselves on a fence post, or, if they're relaxed enough, even start chewing their cud. After 15 to 20 minutes, if you haven't given them anything of interest, they will start to wander off and continue what they were doing.
    • If you only have one animal (like the herd bull or a single cow) that's acting like he or she is agitated about your presence, then simply ignore them and move further away from the fence. Once you have moved a safe distance away (both to you and to them), then they will turn away and go back to where they were "stationed."
      • Remember, you have a higher chance of getting hurt by such an animal if you are in the same pasture or corral as them. If you stay on the opposite side of the fence from the threatening bovine and practice avoidance techniques, then they will eventually leave you be.
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    See if you can give them (the ones that are being nice to you!) a treat of some hand-picked grass growing on the other side of the fence. Chances are you won't get one eating from your hand right away, but if you're patient enough, you might. But if not, just drop the grass on the ground where they can see it and move away a little to let them eat.
    • The way you hold out your hand with grass in it is not like you would with a horse. Cattle grab grass with their tongues, not their lips, so if you hold your hand out with your fist enclosed over the part of the grass with lots of stems, you both enable the animal to get the grass from your hand and from not being bitten. Just remember to let go as soon as you think the bovine has a grip on it.
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    Try to pet one of the animals that have come up to you for a treat. Scratch them under the chin or jaw, on the cheek or even on the neck. Even under the ear or behind the poll is a good place to touch them. If they shy away at your hand reaching out to them or jump at your touch, you can either stop doing it, or try again. If the same thing happens on your second attempt, then stop.
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    Walk away with the thought that you have made good progress with yourself. Maybe you'll want to come back and try it again! If you do, repeat with the same herd or with a different herd until you have no fear (but hopefully a lot of respect) of cattle.


  • Cattle always get bored if you're not doing something that entertains them or giving them something to eat. Usually after 10 to 15 minutes they'll move off and go back to what they were doing before you came along.
  • Don't be intimidated by them staring at you. Prey animals always stare at humans or a predator, no matter what you're doing. Just for the fun of it, have a staring contest with them to see who will look away the soonest. If you're really good and confident, you will always win!
  • Be aware of your state of mind. If you are calm, they will be calm.
  • Knowledge of cattle behaviour will help in the long run. The more you understand their body language, the less afraid you will be.
  • Don't let the horns intimidate you. A lot of the time cattle with horns can be just as even tempered as those that are polled (or have no horns).
    • If you wish to conquer your fears over horned cattle, then visit a farm or ranch that raises Texas Longhorns. Find one that is proud to admit that their cattle are docile, not wild like the Old West stories tell of.
  • One point about gradual desensitization is to take it one step at a time. Face each level for what it is until you can face it without panic.
    • A level easier than phoning a dairy farm to make the appointment (which gives you a deadline to fear once it's done) is to start looking at pictures of cows. Start with paintings that are clearly paintings - Impressionist ones or cartoons. Then progress to realist paintings and then photos.


  • Don't confuse the act of charging or simply running towards you. An animal that charges towards you will always have its head down ready to swing upwards upon impact. Animals that run towards you will have their heads up and always stop before they get to you.
  • Do not tease them. This will only get them agitated and nervous, and if you go too far one could just simply come up and ram into you.
  • Bulls are dangerous. If you have one at the fence line threatening you, just move away and avoid eye contact. Eventually he'll get bored and go away.
    • If you are unfortunate enough to be in a field with a charging bull, then you will need to know what to do. Read How to Avoid or Escape a Bull as part of your background research.
    • While this may be a fear of yours, be sensible--avoid going into an enclosure where there are bulls present with cows, or where there are cattle that you do not know and cannot handle yourself. The best thing to do before you enter a corral or pasture is to ask the cattle owner before going near cattle.
      • If you cannot be avoid being in an enclosure with cattle inside for whatever reason, do as little as possible to draw attention to yourself when passing through a field of cattle, keep away from the herd, and avoid making eye contact.

Things You'll Need

  • Journal, worksheets for writing
  • Information about cattle (websites, books, etc.)
  • Local farm or ranch for a visit; perhaps the children's zoo at a pinch

Sources and Citations

  1. Diarmuid O'Donovan, The Atlas of Health, p. 72, (2008), ISBN 978-1-84407-465-5
  3. Pamela Stephenson Connolly, Head case: treat yourself to better mental health, p. 49, (2007), ISBN 978-0-7553-1721-9
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