Thursday, September 5, 2013

Cow tipping is an urban legend

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

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.) ...

First off, cows don’t sleep standing up—that’s what horses do. Cows actually spend a great deal of time on their bellies digesting food, as well as dozing on their stomachs. Secondly, cows are naturally wary animals. ...

Wilson says that even after years of working closely with his cattle, they would remain apprehensive when he approached at night. “A group of strangers walking up on them?” he says with a laugh. “I don’t think that’s going to be possible.”

But say our hypothetical cow tippers got lucky enough to get close to a cow at night. There’s still the matter of the brute force needed to get the cow over. In 2005, University of British Columbia student Tracy Boechler and doctor of zoology Margo Lillie ran the numbers on cow tipping. Their findings? There’s no way one person could tip a cow. Two people? Maybe—but not in real world conditions. ...

A cow has a lot of mass, and you’ll want to move that mass quite quickly, before the cow can react. Which means you’ll need to generate a lot more force. Per her calculations, that would require at least five, and probably more like six pushers.
--Jake Swearingen, Slate, on the biology and physics of cow tipping