The Border Collie Chronicles

Observations from (arguably) the World's Smartest Dogs;
(but, without question, the bestest friends!)
or, Life As We Understand It, as told from dad's shop.

 Posted June 23, 2016


Cow Tipping

By Annie


Let's get this out of the way:  Cow tipping, at least as it is popularly imagined, just doesn’t exist.  Young, drunk boys don’t, on any regular basis, sneak into pastures and put a hard shoulder into a cow who is taking a standing snooze and tip the poor animal over.


While in the history of the world there have surely been a few unlucky bovine shoved to their side by boozed-up folks, I feel confident in saying this happens at a rate roughly equivalent to the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series.


The evidence against cow tipping is immense, and backed up by both ranchers and the laws of physics (more on that later), but the simplest bit of proof we can point to is … YouTube.  Yep, You Tube!  YouTube is the largest clearinghouse of human stupidity the world has ever known — where you can watch hours of people taking the cinnamon challenge, teens jumping off rooftops onto trampolines, or the explosive results of fireworks set off indoors — fails to deliver one single actual cow-tipping video.


Want some proof of the implausibility of cow tipping?  Take a look at “cow casting.”  When you need to get a cow on to her side, you don’t simply lean into a haunch and heave-ho.  Instead, if on foot, you use a series of ropes in a pattern over her body, and have several folks pulling in opposite directions to get the cow over on to her side.  And when cattle casting goes bad, it can go very bad indeed.  Now imagine instead of folks that know which end of a cow gets up first, you have a group of tipsy teenagers, and you’ll start to realize just how difficult, dangerous and unlikely shoving a cow over would be.


Some other reasons it just doesn’t happen are:

  1. First off, cows don’t sleep standing up — that’s what horses do.  Cows actually spend a great deal of time on their bellies, digesting food, as well as dozing.

  2. Secondly, they are naturally wary animals.  Observe a group of cows laying down in a pasture, and you’ll see that no two of them point in the same direction — part of their instinct for protecting the herd against the many natural predators cows once faced.  You know that beef has been what’s for dinner for a long, long time.

  3. Thirdly, cattle are apprehensive when he approached at night.  A group of (drunk) strangers walking up on them?  I don’t think that’s going to be possible.

  4. Lastly, a 1,400-pound cow is a broad, squarely built animal — there’s a reason that the adjective “beefy” exists.  You’d have more luck trying to tip over a Camry than a cow.

But say our hypothetical cow tippers got lucky enough to get close to a sleeping cow at night.  There’s still the matter of the brute force needed to get the cow over.  In 2005, University of British Columbia student Tracy Boechler and doctor of zoology Margo Lillie ran the numbers on cow tipping.  Their findings?  There’s no way one person could tip a cow.  Two people?  Maybe — but not in real world conditions.


Cow Tipping 01


“Two could do it in theory,” says Dr. Lillie.  “But it’s not going to be easy, and as soon as the cow responds by bracing herself or leaning into you — which she will do — it will be even harder.”  Cows, after all, stand on four legs and will quickly shift their weight to a wider, more stable stance if pushed against.  And Lillie and Boechler’s calculations are based on an unmoving cow in equilibrium in which slow, steady force could be applied without pushback — an optimum (and unrealistic) state for cow tipping.  Pull out your high-school text book and look up Newton’s Second Law: Force equals mass times acceleration.  A cow has a lot of mass, and you’ll want to move that mass quite quickly, before the cow can react.  Which means you’ll need to generate a lot more force.  Per her calculations, that would require at least five, and probably more like six pushers.  “It just makes the physics of it all, in my opinion, impossible,” says Dr. Lillie.


So why does the myth of cow tipping persist?  I expect that part of it, is that the closest many folks come to a cow is seeing one along the interstate.  Glimpsed at 65 miles per hour, it’s probably possible to imagine this docile bovine easily overturned by a blacked-out college bro.  Approach a cow on foot and you’ll quickly realize how difficult the task of tipping would be.  So, then, here is my working theory on the persistence of the myth of cow tipping:  First, the idea itself is funny.  A good myth or legend has the same element as a good joke.  Second, starting in the mid-’80s, cow tipping, for some reason, became something of a pop culture phenomena.  Beavis and Butthead unsuccessfully went cow tipping.  Chris Farley ends up with a face full of muck after going on a failed cow tipping expedition with Rob Lowe in Tommy Boy.  The fact that cow tipping also plays into certain preconceptions about the perceived limited entertainment options available to those in rural areas doesn’t hurt either.


I suspect that many of the “more famous” cow tipping expeditions have originated with the consumption of adult beverages.  In other words, as long as there’s booze, gullibility and a pasture nearby, cow tipping will live on.  Luckily for the cows, there’s very little chance they’ll ever end up actually on their sides. 


Don’t even get me started on Snipe Hunts!





Diagram adapted from Popular Mechanics,

using the work of Dr. Margo Lillie and Tracy Boechler.




Cow Tipping 02





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