A Norwegian cow that was giving birth to a calf just before the weekend will be put to death by the rancher owning her, after the large animal attacked an elderly woman who tried to assist in the birth. The 80-year-old woman died shortly after the attack, which also left her 88-year-old husband injured.
The incident occurred Friday on a farm at Rødøy on Norway’s scenic Helgelands Coast. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that the woman encountered the cow out on grazing land, where it was giving birth for the first time. NRK reported that when the woman went to help the cow, the animal reacted by lunging at the woman, and then at her husband when he tried to help his wife get away from the attacking animal. He was reportedly butted and kicked by the cow, but was recovering from injuries at a hospital in Mo i Rana.
Local police have so far refrained from determining that the cow actually killed the elderly woman. “We don’t know for sure yet if she died because of the injuries she sustained, that’s part of what we’re investigating,” Mads Bernhoft, operations leader for the Nordland Police District, told NRK. He said the police were thus awaiting an autopsy report to determine the woman’s actual cause of death.
There’s no question, though, that the cow attacked both the woman and her husband on Friday afternoon at the grazing area along the sea named Reppasjøen. A neighbour who arrived at the scene eventually managed to fend off the cow by wielding a stick, and called for emergency assistance.
Researchers on Monday claimed that a cow’s strong maternal instinct can explain why it went on the attack. “You can say that it’s natural for an animal to attack because it will defend itself and the calf,” Kristian Ellingsen-Dalskau of Norway’s veterinary institute told NRK on Monday. “The problem is that cows are so large and strong that there can be a tragic result, as in this case.”
Ellingsen-Dalskau has done research on cattle behaviour and stressed that he was speaking in general terms. He believes, however, that the fact the heifer involved was young and inexperienced at giving birth contributed to the attack. “Cows … can be more uncertain when they have not been through a birth before,” he told NRK, nor has a heifer sent out for grazing had as much contact with people as a cow accustomed to being milked. That can also explain the young animal’s violent reaction to the woman.
The rancher who owns the animal that attacked has decided to put her to death after her calf is able to sustain itself. “We have had contact with the rancher and he is inclined to put the cow down because she’s unstable,” Bernhoft told newspaper on Monday. “He doesn’t want to have the cow in his herd.”
The rancher himself told NRK that “I have concluded that this is the right thing to do.” He conceded that the heifer had never attacked people earlier, but he didn’t want people in the area to be wary of his herd. He said he thought it was “good for other folks in the area to know” that the attacking animal would be destroyed.
More than 90 percent of cows in Norway are part of the race known as Norsk rødt fe, bred in herds known for being “calm and fine,” according to Ellingsen-Dalskau. “In warmer countries we find cows known for being more aggressive.”
He said the incident shows how important it is for people to be careful around cows with calves, which often can be encountered in Norway during the open summer grazing period.