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Monitor Notes Extra: Hiking with Cows

Did you know that National Trails Day is this Saturday, June 1? In recognition of this annual event, as well as the 30th anniversaries of both the San Francisco Bay Trail and the Bay Area Ridge Trail, Monitor open space reporter Aleta George’s article for the forthcoming June edition covers some useful rules of trail use. One of those rules involves hiking alongside cattle, which are present in many open space preserves around the Bay Area. As a preview, here’s a little bonus material: Aleta’s personal experience applying lessons learned in a hiking-with-cows workshop run by Solano Land Trust:

While hiking at East Bay Regional Park District’s Wildcat Canyon Regional Park, my husband and I were four miles into a hike and had nearly reached San Pablo Ridge Trail when we encountered a herd of 30 cattle in our path. There was one bull, a dozen heifers and their calves, and a whole bunch of yearlings. On either side of the trail were barbed-wire fences with only a small opening for them to join their herd on the hill below. We had no choice but to move through them.

In a hiking-with-cows workshop with Solano Land Trust’s rangeland ecologist Jasmine Westbrook, I had learned to read cow behavior. I noticed that the yearlings in this herd had their ears cupped towards us, which meant that they were curious. But several heifers had their ears back, their tails tucked, and the whites of their eyes showing. Their calves were on the other side of the trail where we needed to walk.

Here’s what we did. We stayed calm, drank some water, and looked at the yummy grass at our feet — cattle are prey animals, and to keep them at ease, it helps to act like a prey animal as well. Rather than making eye contact, we looked around slowly as if looking for predators. We even snapped our heads to the trail behind us on the count of three as if we had seen a bobcat. We got closer to the herd and saw that the nervous heifers had one ear forward and one ear back, which meant they were still unsure of us. We continued to behave more like prey than predators, and after about ten minutes moved through the entire herd. Even the bull and the previously nervous heifers had returned to eating grass with ears cupped forward as we went on our way.

Showing 3 comments
  • Alison

    Interesting article, but please note- heifers do not have calves. Cows have calves. Heifers are cows who have not yet had a calf.

    • Aleta George

      Thank you for the correction, Alison. Always appreciated!
      Aleta George

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