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Does Cow Tipping Kill Cows? (And Is It Illegal?)

Cow tipping is an urban legend, usually involving someone sneaking into a farm at night after drinking too much, and pushing over a cow who is sleeping while standing up. The cow can then not stand up again and hilarity ensues.

The truth is, in the unlikely event that you somehow managed to tip a cow over, it would not kill them. In fact, a tipped cow would have no problem getting back up again and would probably be pretty angry at you for tipping them over.

does cow tipping kill cows

Though cow tipping has been widely debunked and is generally accepted as an urban myth, it doesn’t stop people trying anyway. Laws differ depending on where you live, but attempting to tip a cow is almost certainly illegal, as you will fall foul of trespassing and animal cruelty laws.

In this article we’ll look at cow tipping in detail, find out why it’s a stupid and dangerous idea, and explore the legality of cow tipping in different parts of the world.

Why do people think cow tipping kills cows?

There is a persistent myth that when a cow rolls on to its side, it is unable to roll itself back on to its legs to stand up.

This false notion likely stems from the phenomenon of rigor mortis, which is a stiffening of the body which occurs after death.

When a cow unfortunately dies on a ranch or farm, rigor mortis has usually set in by the time the farmer finds it. By that point, the cow’s legs are rigid and sticking up in the air, and the cow is bloated and lying on its side.

Over the years, finding cows dead on their sides with their legs in the air due to rigor mortis has led to the belief that cows can not stand up again after falling on their sides.

Why does cow tipping not kill cows?

Cow tipping is a ridiculous urban legend and even if you were somehow able to tip a cow over, it certainly wouldn’t kill them.

Let’s look into this perennial myth in more detail and figure out why cow tipping doesn’t kill cows.

1. Cows do not sleep standing up

Part of the myth of cow tipping is that cows sleep standing up, thereby enabling some drunken cowboy to sneak up on them without them noticing and topple them over before the poor cow has a chance to react.

For cows, this is simply untrue. Although they may look like they are sleeping, look closely at any standing cow and you’ll probably notice their mouth is still chewing slowly.

Cows don’t sleep standing up, they actually spend most of the day lying down and when they need to sleep, they sleep on their sides.

Unfortunately for any would-be cow tippers, this means it is nearly impossible to sneak up on a cow who is standing up. Since they are awake and alert it would be impossible to startle them, and any cow you manage to sneak up on would be able to react quickly and land on the grass safely.

2. Cows are hardy creatures

Today’s cows are descended from wild buffalo, whose thick skulls and muscular frames were built for withstanding the turmoil of living in a large herd and being constantly on the move.

Cows have inherited many of these hardy traits and are super robust and hardy animals, despite their cuddly outward appearance.

If you’ve ever seen young cow calves playing in the fields, you’ll know that rough and tumble play is just a normal part of socialization in any cow herd.

Falling over from a couple of feet in the air on to some soft grass would not hurt a cow in any way.

Can Cows get up after being tipped?

The average cow weighs almost 1400lbs. It’s highly unlikely that any human would ever be able to tip a cow over. Even if you were somehow able to topple a cow off their feet they could quickly stand up again, at which point you would have a very angry cow with an angry pair of horns coming towards you.

The idea that a cow could not be able to get up if tipped over is a popular myth in some parts of the world, but is not true. Cows spend 14 hours a day lying down, they happily rest on their sides and roll over on their backs in the grass and can get up whenever they choose. 

Could cow tipping hurt a cow?

We know that if cow tipping were possible, it wouldn’t stop a cow from standing up and it wouldn’t kill them, but could it hurt them?

The answer is probably not.

Tipping a cow over would not hurt them any more than them flopping on to their sides to go to sleep would. You’re far more likely to injure yourself in the process of trying to tip over a cow than you are to injure the cow itself. 

Cows are tough old beasts and although they look docile, when cows are happy or excited they run, jump, and play in the fields just like a dog would.

Contrary to popular belief, cows are perfectly happy to be on their sides and tipping a cow on to the soft grass wouldn’t hurt them a bit.

Is Cow Tipping Illegal?

There are no specific laws against cow tipping, since there is no evidence that cow tipping has actually ever happened. In spite of this, attempting to tip a cow is almost certainly illegal, because most countries have strict laws against trespassing and animal cruelty.

In addition, were you to injure or hurt an animal, the farmer would most probably sue you for damages, since cattle can be extremely expensive and it’s how a farmer makes his living to feed his family.

Each country and state have their own laws which protect animals from unnecessary cruelty.

In the UK for example, animal rights are enshrined in the Protection of Animals Act (1911), which has been amended over the years to include more definitions and animals, including an amendment in 1968 specifically outlawing the causing of unnecessary pain or distress in livestock.

In the United States, each state is responsible for their own laws around animal rights, but in 2019 both the house and the senate unanimously voted in favor of passing the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act, which makes specific acts of animal cruelty a federal offense.

Similar laws are in place around the globe and will only get stricter as time passes.

Conclusion

Cow tipping is little more than an urban legend. Cows can weigh as much as 1700 pounds and could not be tipped even if you wanted to.

If you did somehow manage to tip a cow, it wouldn’t hurt the cow, and the cow could easily stand up again, at which point you would be in the middle of a field with a very angry cow.

Cow tipping isn’t a specific offense in most jurisdictions, but attempting to tip a cow is extremely dangerous (for you) and the act of trespassing on private farmland and attacking an innocent animal will put you on the wrong side of trespassing and animal cruelty laws.

In short, cow tipping is dumb. You can not tip a cow. Do not try to tip a cow. If you try to tip a cow, you will not hurt the cow, but the cow might hurt you. Cow tipping does not kill cows. If you enter private property and attack an innocent cow, you will probably end up in jail.