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Cow tipping is the purported activity of sneaking up on an unsuspecting upright cow and pushing it over for entertainment. The practice of cow tipping is generally considered an urban legend, as cows do not sleep standing up, and the implication that a cow can be pushed over and not stand up again is incorrect, as, unless injured, cows routinely lie down and can easily regain their footing. The implication that rural citizens seek such entertainment due to lack of other alternatives is also generally viewed as a stereotype.
The urban legend of cow-tipping relies upon the presumption that cattle are slow-moving, slow-witted and weak-legged, thus easily pushed over without much force. However, unlike horses, cattle do not sleep while standing; they only rest that way, and they are easily disturbed. Furthermore, numerous sources have questioned the practice's feasibility, since most cows weigh over half a ton, and easily resist any lesser pushing force.
A 2005 study led by Margo Lillie, a doctor of zoology at the University of British Columbia, concluded that tipping a cow would require an exertion of 2,910 newtons (654.2 lbf) of force, and is therefore impossible to perform by a single person. Her calculations found that it would take at least two people to apply enough force to push over a cow if the cow does not react and reorient its footing. If the cow does react, it would take at least four people to push it over. Lillie noted that cattle are well aware of their surroundings and are very difficult to surprise, due to excellent senses of both smell and hearing, but that according to laws of static physics, "two people might be able to tip a cow" if the cow were "tipped quickly—the cow's centre of mass would have to be pushed over its hoof before the cow could react". The Lillie study has been replicated by other researchers, who confirmed that at least two to four people can, in fact, push over a cow.
The belief that certain animals cannot rise if pushed over has historical antecedents, though cattle have never been so classified. Julius Caesar and Pliny record a belief that European moose had no knee joints and could not get up if they fell over. This belief may relate to the ancient custom of trapping moose in steep-sided pits.
In 1255, Louis IX of France gave an elephant to Henry III of England for his menagerie in the Tower of London. Drawn from life by the historian Matthew Paris for his Chronica Majora, it can be seen in his bestiary at Parker Library of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, with an accompanying text revealing that at the time, Europeans believed that elephants did not have knees and so were unable to get up if they fell over. The bestiary contains a drawing depicting an elephant on its back being dragged along the ground by another elephant, with a caption stating that elephants lacked knees.