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Tuesday, November 15, 2005 

Cow tipping debunked

I grew up in the middle of vast swaths of northwestern Ohio farmland. My dad, the youngest of 13 kids, was raised on a farm, most of my uncles still farm to some extent, and collecting eggs and shearing sheep was something I got to do regularly as a kid on visits to Grandma's house. But I'd honestly never heard of "cow tipping" until I went to Swanky East Coast College (TM) and got asked if that was a pasttime I and my rural friends engaged in. (Obviously, it wasn't). Well, now researchers at the University of British Columbia have data to show that it's likely that all these tipping stories are simply myths.

Ms Boechler, now a trainee forensics analyst for the Royal Canadian Mounted Corps, concluded in her initial report that a cow standing with its legs straight would require five people to exert the required force to bowl it over.

A cow of 1.45 metres in height pushed at an angle of 23.4 degrees relative to the ground would require 2,910 Newtons of force, equivalent to 4.43 people, she wrote.

Dr Lillie, Ms Boechler’s supervisor, revised the calculations so that two people could exert the required amount of force to tip a static cow, but only if it did not react.

“The static physics of the issue say . . . two people might be able to tip a cow,” she said. “But the cow would have to be tipped quickly — the cow’s centre of mass would have to be pushed over its hoof before the cow could react.”


Another problem is that cows, unlike horses, do not sleep on their feet — they doze. Ms Boechler said that cows are easily disturbed. “I have personally heard of people trying but failing because they are either using too few people or being too loud.

“Most of these ‘athletes’ are intoxicated.”

I've not been around cows much--Grandma had them occasionally on the farm, but it was mostly sheep and chickens (and poor, tortured barn cats. Think Elmyra on Tiny Toons, then multiply it by about 10 because I had way too many cousins). Anyway, we now live on a farm and currently have about 15 cows quite literally in our backyard--and yeah, they are *not* heavy sleepers. The second I let my dogs out in the morning, all the cows are running away from the fence, despite the fact that neither my door nor my dogs are very noisy. I guess it's good to know that our bovine friends are (well, mostly) safe from the shenanigans of intoxicated frat boys throughout the country.

(Hat tip to SciAm Observations for the link to the study)


About me

  • I'm Tara C. Smith
  • From Iowa, United States
  • I'm a mom and a scientist, your basic stressed-out, wanna-have-it-all-and-do-it-all Gen Xer. Recently transplanted from Ohio to Iowa, I've spent most of my life in the midwest (with 4 years of college spent out east in "soda" territory). My main interest, and the subject of my research, is infectious disease: how does the microbe cause illness? What makes one strain nasty, and another "avirulent?" Are the latter really not causing any disease, or could some of those be possible for the development of chronic disease years down the road? Additionally, I've spent a lot of time discussing the value of teaching evolution, and educating others about "intelligent design" and other forms of creationism. My interest in history of science and medicine is also useful as a way to tie all of the above interests together. [Disclaimer: the views here are solely my own, and do not represent my employer, my spouse, that guy who's always sitting by the fountain when I come into work, or anyone else with whom I may be remotely affiliated.]
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