Can a tipped cow not stand up?

Rose Byron wonders whether pushing over a sleeping cow will kill it because it can’t get back up. For those familiar with the bucolic American pastime of cow tipping, the answer makes all the difference between a prank and a slow cruel death. Fortunately no tipped cows have ever been harmed, mainly because no cows have ever been tipped.

Cow tipping is an allegedly common pursuit of drunken college students in the American heartland, where said youths find a sleeping cow somewhere handy, walk up to it and push it over. Much hilarity is supposed to ensue. There are at least two lines of evidence that indicate cow tipping is apocryphal — and that’s not including the implausibility of a group of drunken students sneaking up on anything undetected, sleeping or not.

The first problem is that cows don’t sleep standing up. They doze a bit — your eyes would glaze over too if that much of your life revolved around chewing — but they don’t really sleep in that position.

If that isn’t daunting enough it turns out that cows are really hard to tip over. Questions like this actually come up when trying to understand how animals support themselves and move. More than one scientist has given cow tipping some serious thought. Enough, at least, to show that around ten to fifteen people would be needed to push a typical cow off balance.

Cow tipping has clearly been dreamt up by city-dwellers like you and me (rural types already know the score: they’ll be off mucking something out by now). Of course if cow tipping is mythical then Rose’s question becomes academic — as if that’s going to stop me! The answer is that cows lie down all the time and have no trouble getting up, and neither should our hypothetical tipped one.

Since none of the nation’s cows are of the rare hypothetical variety, we don’t have to worry about the problem spreading here. There’s no need for the laws of the land to prohibit cow tipping: it’s already prohibited by the laws of nature.

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