Cow Tipping on a Saturday Night

Is cow tipping real or simply a rural myth? The debate has recently been given fuel by a research duo at the University of British Columbia; Margo Lillie, a doctor of zoology and her student, Tracy Boechler. The two concluded that a cow standing in a full upright position would require the strength of five adults to push it over; providing the cow was willing to be tipped.

Boechler calculated that 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. Since people do not normally come in .43 portions, the number was rounded up to five.

Lillie looked over her student?s calculations and revised them to find that two people could exert the required amount of force to tip a static cow, but only if the cow failed to react. ?The static physics of the issue say . . . two might be able to tip a cow,? Margo said. ?But the cow would have to be tipped quickly – the cow?s centre of mass would have be over its hoof before the cow could react.?

She went on to amend her conclusion by citing Newton?s second law of motion; force equals mass multiplied by acceleration. ?Biology complicates the issue here because the faster the (human) muscles have to contract, the lower the force they can produce. Even if a dynamic physics model suggests cow tipping is possible, the biology ultimately gets in the way; a cow is simply not a rigid, unresponding body.?

Nor do cows, sans popular myth, sleep standing up with knees locked in place. They sleep laying down and their knees are pretty much just knees. Unlockable. Even if a cow was on the hoof, lost in daydreams of India, due to its wide range vision, it would still probably notice five people charging towards it, long before any contact could be made.

Boechler cites 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.?

Which is where the more adamant stories of cow tipping expeditions stem from. The cow tippers who hotly contend that cow tipping is not a lot of bull. If you?re drunk and you try to push over a cow in the dark, it?s pretty clear what?s going to happen. The cow is going run and you – attempting to exert 2,910 Newtons of force into its fleeing flank – are going to do a face plant in a cow patty. From this vantage point – figuring in the level of anti freeze in your body – it would be an easy leap to think you had fell down, because you had pushed over the cow.

Whichever side of the fence you?re on, here?s the real beef: Why?

What is wrong with the human psyche that makes the sight of Bossy, standing in a pasture, dreaming of India, incite a wild urge to knock her over? Even in large numbers, even if you?re bored, even if you?re drunk, even if crazy Earl is in the back-seat enthusing the merits of cow tipping, what satisfaction can possibly be derived from pushing over a cow?

I bet Bessy has a few beefs on the subject herself. Like why cows?

Why not chickens? Or pigs or goats or sheep? Or horses, who really do sleep standing up? Perfectly tippable livestock choices going untapped.

I was talking to one of my rural neighbours about cow tipping. He was startled to hear about the research findings at UBC. ?Five people to knock over a cow!? He snorted, shoved his cowboy hat back on his head and gave his forehead a thoughtful scratch. ?Maybe if they?re a bunch of mamby pamby city kids.?

He went on to assure me that not only is it possible for one person to tip over a cow, it happens all the time, in front of large crowds, every summer. ?But we generally use steers. And we ride a horse. And real cowboys don?t call it tipping, they call it steer wrestling.?