A Guide to Walking Near Livestock

Sarah Mac on 29th Aug 2022

Walking near livestock


There’s nothing to beat a walk in the countryside. But what if you find you’re sharing your path with grazing animals? The countryside is a working environment, so it’s inevitable that at some point, we’re going to come across a few companions of the four legged variety. So it got us thinking, what are the rules around walking near livestock? What’s the recommended advice, and what does the Countryside Code say? Here’s what we’ve uncovered.

Cows and bulls - farmer's responsibilities

It’s actually against the law for farmers to leave bulls over the age of ten months on their own in a field that’s crossed by a public right of way. They’re not supposed to keep recognised dairy breed bulls on land crossed by a public right of way either, even if they’ve got cows or calves with them. Farmers have to take steps to minimise risks to walkers, for example put up signs to alert people to the fact that there’s a bull in the field.

We’re all aware of what bulls are capable of, but cows can be just as dangerous, especially when they’re looking out for their newly born calves. Farmers are supposed to put signs up to inform walkers that there are cows grazing in a field, and should mention if they have calves with them.

So we’re out walking, and we see a sign saying there are cows grazing on or near our path. What to do?

Walking near livestock

The general advice is to avoid any behaviour that the animals might see as threatening.

If you’re heading into a field with cattle, take a minute to see how they’re behaving. Try not to walk too close to them, especially if they appear aggressive or protective of their young. Use your intuition; if you don’t feel comfortable, there’s probably a reason for it. If there’s another route, take it.

If you’re going in, check for escape routes first. Are there other gates you could use, a fence you could climb over if it came to it?

Where there are cows with calves, be sure to never walk between the cow and its calf, even if they are blocking your right of way. Find a way around them. The law allows you to find another route if you need to avoid livestock. Don’t put yourself at risk, and only get back on the path when it’s safe to do so.

Be ready for cattle to react to you being there. They are inquisitive types, and may want to check you out. So if they start walking towards you, don’t panic. Most of the time cows will stop short before they get to you. If they start following you, just carry on, but do bear in mind that if you speed up, the cows probably will too.

Always move quietly and steadily at a reasonable pace. Don’t run, as any sudden movement might unnerve the animals.

If you’ve got a dog with you, keep it on a short lead and under control. If you are threatened by cattle, let the dog off the lead, as it’s more likely they’ll chase the dog rather than you.

If you come across any problems, be sure to report them. There should be an emergency number on the grazing notice, or you can talk to the landowner if you know who it is. If there’s a serious incident, if someone’s attacked or injured, you should let the police. Know.

Walking near livestock

Walking near horses

If you find yourself near horses, again be cautious. It’s fairly common to see horse riders on bridleways, or you might see them in a field you’re planning to walk across.

Always keep your distance when you see a horse rider, don’t walk too close behind them. Stand aside and let them past if you can, or give them a wide berth if you need to go past. Always let the rider know you’re there if it’s not obvious, but don’t shout or startle the horse.

Never walk between mares and their foals. And if you come across a horse that seems to be behaving aggressively, be sure to report it.

Walking near horses

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You can find out more about walking near livestock in the Countryside Code.

It’s cool that we get to share the outdoors with animals. As long as we’re careful and respectful, we should all get on just fine.

Off on an outdoor adventure? Check out the Outhaus store and make sure you’ve got all you need before you head off. Enjoy!