Do Fireworks Scare Cows?

Recent 4th of July firework celebrations got us thinking…many dogs are petrified of fireworks, but what about cows? We asked Utah State University Extension Dairy Specialist and Associate Professor, Allen Young to weigh in. Thanks to Allen for contributing this post:

As humans, we love to go to scary movies and see things that make our flesh crawl, but if we get scared unexpectedly, we usually go through the “fight or flight” syndrome.  This is where adrenaline surges, we jump, scream/faint, try to run or even turn around and lash out at someone.  There are several times my wife has scared me, and I almost hit her before I realized she wasn’t trying to sneak up on me.  Animals are similar.  They don’t like to be frightened when they aren’t expecting it.  In many ways their “fight or flight” mechanism is more finely tuned than humans.  This is especially true in animals that historically were considered “prey” animals.  Examples of these would be cattle, sheep and goats.  In the old days it was important that they were not surprised by a wolf, bear, coyote or mountain lion or else they could be dinner.


Today, our domesticated animals are maybe not quite as alert as before, but the same mechanisms that are part of their genes live on.  So the question is do loud noises bother cows?  The answer becomes one of how often does it happen?  If it happens infrequently, then they will show similar responses to what you might expect; running and or lashing out would be examples.  However, if the loud noise becomes a “common” thing in their life, they show almost no response at all.  For example, cows that live near airports become habituated to the point that they totally ignore the sounds from the jets and act as if nothing is happening.  Several years ago I was on a dairy that was located near the end of runway for military fighter jets.  While standing in the middle of a corral full of cows, several jets took off with full afterburners.  I was three feet away from the owner and he and I could not carry on a conversation.  The cows – they never even looked up, ran, acted frightened, or did anything to make me think something was amiss.

So, what if you want to celebrate the holidays with fireworks?  That’s fine; but maybe stay away from the cows.  They are not habituated to fireworks, and I’m pretty sure they can’t outrun a bottle rocket.  Move down the street and both you and the cows will have a happy evening.

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