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Cattle Perception & Bikes

Learning to “Speak Cow” as a Mountain Biker or Hiker: Part 1

Reading cattle body language can help you know what to do

  • If you are biking, and you come upon a cow, and that cow looks up at you, you have entered their “zone of awareness.” The cow is aware you are there but you have not yet approached close enough to get it to flee (i.e., the flight zone).
Alert cows on rangeland

Signs of full alert are: ears pricked, head elevated, hair raised on neck. The photographer has entered the “zone of awareness” for the cattle (Smith 1998)

“As most of us require pay for our work, cattle also require a paycheck. Relief of pressure is part of their paycheck—a big part.”  Steve Cote, author of Stockmanship: A powerful tool for grazing lands management

Cow grazing on pasture

This cow does not show signs of awareness of the photographer. If a cow is showing this body language, it is probably not impacted by your presence. Photo by Jimmy Smith and available on Flickr via a 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license


1) Smith, B. 1998. Moving ’em: a guide to low stress animal handling. The Graziers Hui.

Interested in learning more about animal behavior?

The Stockmanship Journal is a great resource, as is the BEHAVE project, and Temple Grandin’s website


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