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Image courtesy Flickr user Markku Åkerfelt.

The Roundup

The Rural Legend of Cowtipping

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Posted 09.06.13

Growing up in Oklahoma—and, for a few years, Texas—I heard stories about cow tipping on a regular basis. Friends told me how they sneaked into some farmer’s pasture and pushed an unwitting bovine while it slept, laughing as it toppled helplessly over.

I never tipped a cow myself—and, apparently, none of my bragging friends did, either.

Yesterday, the magazine Modern Farmer published a story debunking the cow-tipping myth.

While in the history of the world there have surely been a few unlucky cows shoved to their side by boozed-up morons, we 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 farmers and the laws of physics (more on that later), but the simplest bit of proof we can point to: YouTube.

YouTube, the largest clearinghouse of human stupidity the world has ever known — where you can watch hours of kids 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. (The one exception is a Russian dashcam video, which shows a semitruck full of cattle overturning — and cows shaking themselves off and walking away.)

Writer Jake Swearington makes several points: Cows don’t sleep standing up (that’s horses). Cows have “incredibly well developed senses of smell and hearing,” making it nearly impossible for a group of drunk teenagers to get close enough to tipping them over. Cows are massive, and they are pretty good at adjusting their stance to keep their balance.

So why, if the theory has been debunked (and it has, several times, Swearington says) does the myth of cow tipping persist? Well, Swearington has some theories about that as well: First, it’s funny. And it’s become something of a pop-culture novelty.

“Third, cow tipping is essentially a muddier, drunker, and more dangerous version of the snipe hunt. You take a wet-behind-the-ears kid out into the field, feed them a few brews, and tell him to go find Bessie and give a good shove. You, meanwhile, spend some quality time listening to someone slipping and sliding in a dark and muddy field.”