According to popular belief, cows can easily be pushed over without much force because they are slow-moving, slow-witted and weak-legged, have a high center of gravity and sleep standing up. Numerous publications have debunked cow-tipping as a myth. Cows only doze instead of sleeping while standing up, and they are easily disturbed. A variety of calculations have been performed to determine if cow tipping is physically possible. A study led by Margo Lillie, a doctor of zoology at the University of British Columbia, concludes that cow tipping by a single person is impossible. 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. Professor Lillie noted that, contrary to the myth, cows are well aware of their surroundings (they have excellent senses of smell and hearing) and are very difficult to sneak up on.
The British media outlet Times Online has posted a detailed illustration of the force necessary to push over a cow.
Cow tipping began as a trick to be played on people such as city folk visiting the country. Like snipe hunting, it was used to send those on whom you are playing the trick on a wild goose chase, with a task that could not be done.
A similar belief was held about elephants in medieval Europe: 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.
In April 2008, four men in Naples, Florida, who were arrested for damaging a gate to a communications tower in an open field, told police deputies that they had gone into the field and tipped over a cow. However, police stated this was impossible because there were no cows within several miles of the field.
In January 2009, a cow reportedly knocked a woman off her bike and stepped on her legs in Boulder, Colorado. The Associated Press wrote that, "It's not another instance of cow-tipping. In this case, it was the cow that did the tipping." The woman was not seriously injured. Other news sources cited the incident as the result of a "Cow engaging in people-tipping"; compare "man bites dog".
Cow-tipping has appeared in a variety of media and entertainment. In the popular computer role-playing games Fallout 3 and Asheron's Call, players can push over cows. In the 2006 animated movie Barnyard, a group of tough talking cows from New Jersey go "boy-tipping" in response to similar behavior against cows. In another 2006 animation movie, Cars, characters go "tractor-tippin'". In a 1994 episode of the popular animated television series Beavis and Butt-head, the two titular characters, after watching a milk ad on television, set out to tip over a cow. Cow-tipping is also featured in the 1989 black comedy Heathers as well as the 1995 Chris Farley-David Spade comedy film Tommy Boy.
Cow tipping is the myth of tipping over a cow. Cows do not sleep standing up, so cow tipping does not happen. The British media Times Online has posted a document of the force needed to push over a cow.