Don McIntosh knew the 1,200-pound cow was mean. But he thought she was somewhere else the day he approached the newborn calf.
Turned out she was one of a group of five cows around the newborn. "Even though the calf wasn't hers, her mommy instinct kicked in," McIntosh said. She charged him and his brother. "My brother can run faster than I can," he laughed as he sat in his hospital bed, recovering from the attack. "I went down. She had her head lowered and was trying to stomp me into the ground. She was steamrolling me." His brother came back as a decoy and the cow turned to chase him. It gave McIntosh time to roll down a small hill and under a fence to safety. "We knew she was mean so we'd given her a wide berth. But I've never seen one act that bad for that long."
Family members took McIntosh to Alegent Creighton Health Community Memorial Hospital in nearby Missouri Valley where he was stabilized, then transferred to Alegent Creighton Health Creighton University Medical Center. The injuries were serious enough that the trauma team was activated. He survived the attack with four pelvic fractures and what he calls a "really sore spot" in his ribs.
The trauma team, which usually handles falls, motor vehicle accidents and assaults, has seen five cases like McIntosh's in five months. And in the last five years, the team has treated 97 animal-related injuries, including those from cows. The scenario of being attacked by a cow is out-of-the-ordinary but can be life-threatening; it's no laughing matter when someone is charged, crushed or injured by a cow. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that between 2003 and 2008, a total of 21 people died in the four cattle-producing states of Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska.
The CDC found that in all but one case where someone died the cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head or chest. Two-thirds of the victims were over the age of 60 and all but one were male. The youngest—a Nebraska eight-year-old—was crushed while moving cattle through a squeeze chute.
Most of the CUMC cases are consistent with the CDC findings: they involve blunt force trauma. A cow head-butted one man and he suffered a concussion, a fractured nose and intercranial bleeding when the blood vessel in his skull ruptured. The trauma team was activated because buildup of blood in the skull can crush delicate brain tissue or restrict blood supply.
"You think they're docile sluggos but they can be dangerous," McIntosh said. A few years ago someone in a neighboring town was killed when a cow crushed him. McIntosh has been around cows since he was a young boy and has raised livestock for over 30 years but he said it doesn't matter how familiar you are with them—cows can be fast, heavy and powerful, especially when protecting their calves in the spring and fall, or when surprised by loud unexpected noises. He said he's been chased up to the fence many times by overly-spirited cows.
In addition to the CDC's analysis, The Book of Odds looked at the dangers cows can pose and actually calculated how deadly they are. It found interacting with them can actually be more dangerous than competing in triathlons, with 21.6 cattle-related deaths a year compared to 5.1 deaths a year caused by triathlons. In the article "Behind the Numbers: Death by Cow," The Book of Odds writer concluded, "Getting within kicking range of Bessie, it turns out, is far more dangerous than furiously trying to outrun, out pedal and out paddle your competitors."
McIntosh said this is the second time he's been injured around a cow. A few years ago he was feeding a group of them when a bale of hay fell on his head and crushed the left side of his face. He says he needed reconstructive surgery because that side of his face resembled "crushed eggshells."
McIntosh followed up his hospital say with rehab at Immanuel Medical Center, then went home to Missouri Valley. He planned to stay away from the cow -- now named "Meanie"-- that attacked him. A relative who visited McIntosh in the hospital said, "Yeah, and soon, maybe you can call her Hamburger!"