Cows can walk backwards, although it’s a rare sight. Given the choice, a cow will always prefer to walk forwards, so that they can see where they are going.
In this article we’ll be busting the myth that cows can’t walk backwards at all, looking at their backwards walking abilities, and learning why you probably won’t ever see a cow walking backwards, even though they can.
How Do Cows Walk Backwards?
Cows are large, lumbering beasts at the best of times, so when they walk backwards they walk slowly and carefully to avoid any accidents.
Cows may also be a little nervous walking backwards, since they can not see what’s behind them. Cows are prey animals and although modern farm cows have few predators, they still have an evolutionary instinct.
Can All Cows Walk Backwards?
Barring any serious injuries or illnesses, all cows can walk backwards.
Why Do Some People Think Cows Can’t Walk Backwards?
You may have heard the myth that cows can not walk backwards.
For some reason, cows are the target of lots of these myths that sound just plausible enough that people believe it, but are completely untrue. Some other examples are that cows can’t get up after they are knocked over, or that cows have four hearts.
One reason this myth perpetuates itself is that apart from farmers, most people only encounter cows when they are walking in the countryside, and the cows are in their fields where they have no cause to ever walk backwards.
Another possible explanation for this persistent myth is that cows have slightly different leg joint placements than humans, which makes it look like cows have no knees.
Read more: Do Cows Have Knees?
Why Do Cows Walk Backwards?
Although rare, you may see a cow walking backwards on a few different scenarios.
Cows may walk backwards:
1. If They Are Seriously Ill
Unfortunately, many degenerative conditions can affect a cow’s central nervous system, causing them to exhibit strange and uncoordinated behaviors.
According to the FDA, uncoordinated movement is one of the first signs of BSE (Mad cow disease).
2. If They Have Been Forced In To A Dead End
Like most animals, cows can walk backwards to get out of tight spots in the wild. If a cow tries to squeeze its way through two trees that are too close together, or wanders into a dead end, they can manoeuvre their way out no problem.
3. On Farms – During Milking, Transport, Or In A Cow Crush
During milking, cows walk forwards into the milking parlor, and have to back out of it. (Though sometimes they don’t want to! Cows enjoy being milked)
Similarly, when cattle is being transported, they generally walk forwards into the transporter, and may have to back out slowly at the destination.
Finally, when cows need to be handled on the farm, they are stored in a cow crush. This sounds horrible, but it’s really just a small metal enclosure to keep the cow still for things like veterinary procedures. Some models of crush don’t have a front exit and the cow has to back out of them.
4. When They Are Defending Themselves Or Their Young
Cows are prey animals, but that doesn’t mean they are defenseless. Many breeds of cow have sharp horns to defend themselves and their calves.
If a cow feels threatened by a predator, they will back away from the threat, but keep their horns pointing forwards to ward off the attackers.
Why Don’t Cows Like Walking Backwards?
Cows don’t like walking backwards because they are prey animals.
There’s an instinctual drive in all prey animals to keep a close eye on their surroundings. This is the reason you’ll rarely see cows, antelope, or pigs walking backwards.
In addition, cows are large and lumbering creatures, with thin legs and a high center of mass. This makes ruts in the ground more difficult for them to navigate around, and this would be even more difficult if the cow can’t see where they are going.
Given the choice, a cow will always choose to walk forwards instead of backwards. They are nature’s optimists.
Can Cows Run Backwards?
Although cows can walk backwards, they can not run backwards. When cows move backwards they are slow and careful, to make sure they don’t injure themselves.
Can Cows Kick Backwards?
Just because you’re not at the end of the cow with the deadly horns doesn’t mean you’re free from danger.
Though cows are pretty slow when walking backwards, they can still deliver a powerful kick with their hind legs to defend themselves.
Can Any Animals Not Walk Backwards?
Although cows can walk backwards, there are a few animals which can’t.
Spare a thought for the poor old kangaroo.
That’s right, not only is Skippy cursed to spend his days hopping around everywhere, but as an extra kick in the teeth kangaroos can not walk backwards.
There are some other animals which can’t walk backwards, including wallabies, most snakes, ostriches, and emus.
Cows can definitely walk backwards, though you could spend a lifetime watching them in the field and never see it. Since most people only see cows in the fields when they have no cause to walk backwards, the myth that it’s impossible persists.
Cows prefer not to walk backwards because they are prey animals, and have an instinctual need to see what’s in front of them, but they do walk backwards in a few specific situations.
Cows may walk backwards when they are forced in to a situation where they can’t walk forwards any more. This usually happens in agriculture, for example in milking parlors, on cattle transporters, or in a cow crush.
Though it’s not true that cows can’t go backwards, some animals including emus, ostriches, snakes, and kangaroos actually can not walk backwards.
Stuart is the editor of Fauna Facts. He edits our writers’ work as well as contributing his own content. Stuart is passionate about sustainable farming and animal welfare and has written extensively on cows and geese for the site.