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Cow Tipping: The Myth That Just Won't Stand Up


Cow tipping is considered an adolescent rite of passage in some places. Now, we have members of our staff in this very office of urban sophisticates who say they've been part of a group that tipped a bovine. But a journalist named Jake Swearingen insists that cow tipping is what amounts to a rural legend - no more real than jackalopes. His sod-breaking analysis appears in the new quarterly magazine Modern Farmer. Jake Swearingen joins us from our studios in New York. Thanks so much for being with us.

JAKE SWEARINGEN: Entirely my pleasure.

SIMON: So, why is cow tipping impossible?

SWEARINGEN: Well, I would like to state, first off, that I don't think cow tipping is impossible. Human beings are inventive, creative creatures. When we put our minds to something, it is possible to overturn a cow. My article and my contention and one I strongly believe is true is that the popular conception of cow tipping, that on a regular basis in the rural areas of America and around the world, young men - usually drunk - go out to fields, find a cow that's sleeping standing up and then give it a good hard shove, and then the cow topples over helpless. And everyone has a good laugh. And that, I believe, is impossible for a variety of reasons, partly to do with talking to actual dairy farmers, partly to do with the laws of physics and partly to do with the research I did on YouTube, strangely.

SIMON: We went to YouTube as well, and you're quite right. It's hard to get a - it's hard to find a shot of the cow actually going over, isn't it?

SWEARINGEN: Exactly. And YouTube is the clearinghouse for all of human stupidity. If somebody does something that's dumb - and I believe cow tipping is a very dumb activity if you do it - it will be on YouTube. And yet there isn't a single one.

SIMON: And the physics are daunting.

SWEARINGEN: The physics are daunting. When you actually get up close to a cow, it's a large animal. The average dairy heifer comes in around 1,400 pounds. A bull can get up to 4,000. It really is on the equivalent of trying to tip over a small car.

SIMON: Back to the fact that we have staffers here who have maintained that they've been part of a cow tipping. Now, forgive me - I hate to personalize it - but are you saying they're full of, you know, you can finish that sentence in a bovine manner.


SWEARINGEN: You know, I would never want to call anybody a liar. And, again, I do believe that it happens. It requires some very specialized circumstances. The cow can be on an incline, which sort of creates an imbalance and then it makes it harder for it to brace itself. So, as I say, I do think that cow tipping has occurred in the history of the world, but it's about as rare as the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series. And actually, that was a line that I spent some time considering. I sort of went through, OK, what are rare occurrences? And originally I had Halley's Comet in there. But I thought, you know, Halley's Comet actually comes around a little bit more often...

SIMON: More frequently than the Cubs have won the World Series, yes.

SWEARINGEN: Yeah. So, I had to go with something just a little more rare.

SIMON: Jake Swearingen, a journalist with Modern Farmer. Thanks very much for being with us.

SWEARINGEN: Hey, it was entirely my pleasure. Thanks for talking. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.