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Steelhammer: Settling a beef with cow tipping

Twelve years after I took the bull by the horns and debunked the rural myth of cow tipping ("Rural myth has long been milked," Sunday Gazette-Mail, June 17, 2001), my work has been vindicated!

Earlier this month, the quarterly magazine Modern Farmer included a piece by author Jake Swearingen titled "Cow Tipping: Fake or Really Fake." The answer to the question posed by the title was a resounding "yes."

"Let's get this out of the way: Cow tipping, as least as popularly imagined, does not exist," Swearingen wrote at the start of his article. "Drunk young men do not, on a regular basis, sneak into cow pastures and put a hard shoulder into a cow taking a standing snooze, thus tipping the poor animal over."

In my 2001 piece, I quoted a dairy magazine editor, an author of a dairy farm book, and a WVU animal science professor in coming to the same conclusion.

The cow-tipping myth seems to have come into being in the late 1970s, and stampeded into the '80s, when movies like "Tommy Boy" and "Heathers" featured cow tipping expeditions.

I've heard and read accounts of cow tipping adventures for years -- usually told by someone who, when pressed for details, said they did not personally tip a cow, but knew someone who had.

Having grown up on a beef farm, the cow tipping narrative never rang true to me for a number of reasons.

First and foremost, cattle lie down to sleep -- they don't catch their Zs in the full, upright position as the cow-tipping legend has it.

Second, cattle are wary, easily spooked creatures, and would not stand placidly in place while human strangers staggered toward them in the dead of night.

Third, adult cattle weigh more than 1,000 pounds, are squarely built, and have strong shoulders and sturdy legs.

"There's a reason the adjective 'beefy' exists," Swearingen wrote in his piece. "You'd have more luck trying to tip over a Camry than a cow."

Swearingen cited a 2005 study by the University of British Columbia, which examined the physics of supposed cow tipping. The Canadian study concluded that it would take 2,910 Newtons of force, requiring a coordinated effort by 4.43 human adults, to topple a 1,500-pound bovine, assuming the cow stood still for the experiment. "It just make the physics of it all, in my opinion, impossible," according to UBC researcher Margo Lillie.

But the main piece of evidence Swearingen cites in busting the cow tipping myth wasn't around when I wrote my 2001 column:

"YouTube, the largest clearinghouse of human stupidity the world has ever known -- where you can see hours of kids taking the cinnamon challenge, teens jumping off rooftops onto trampolines, or the explosive effects of fireworks set off indoors -- fails to deliver one single actual cow-tipping video," Swearingen wrote.

Despite compelling evidence that it's an activity with no chance for success, cow tipping will continue to attract the gullible, the impaired and the bored, Swearingen predicts.

Cow tipping, he said, has evolved into "a newer, drunker and more dangerous version of the snipe hunt. You take a wet-behind-the-ears kid out into the field, feed him a few brews and tell him to go find Bessie and give her a shove. You, meanwhile, spend some quality time listening to someone slipping and sliding in a dark and muddy field." And lucky for the cows, there's no chance they'll end up on their sides -- unless it's from laughing at the drunken fools staggering through their pasture.


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