Even if you didn’t grow up in the country, you’ve likely heard of cow-tipping, the supposed pastime of bored, mischievous young drunks in rural locales. Supposedly, guys (it’s always guys in these stories; Beavis and Butthead, for example, featured an episode titled “Cow Tipping”) slip into a cow pasture after dark, then wreck havoc by shoving over sleeping bovines. Modern Farmer, however, puts this urban legend to rest: cow tipping, they explain, is not a real thing.
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.” In his many decades of dairy farming, Wilson says he never heard of cow tipping occurring in his own fields, or in the fields of any fellow dairy farmers.
This is not just the opinion of one exasperated farmer. Scientists have actually taken the time to investigate the idea, and produced some hard numbers that indicated that cow-tipping “has no leg to stand on.” Back in 2005, they found that it would take five people to muster the force required to push a cow over. The researchers assumed, however, that the standing cow was holding completely still.
In the real world, cows are not static, rigid objects. Even if one was caught standing up in the dead of night, Modern Farmer points out, cows can shift their weight and also move away from annoying guys invading their fields. “It just makes the physics of it all, in my opinion, impossible,” the lead author of the study told Modern Farmer.
More from Smithsonian.com: