Why Cows at UC Merced?

 Blue and gold are our university’s colors, but we are also known for our black and white colors too. That is to say, UC Merced has made a name for itself partly for the nearby cows that roam the lands surrounding campus.

Sure, the cows are aesthetically pleasing to the eye against the green fields and blue skies. Cows are also great conversation starters, not to suggest speaking with the animals one-on-one, but people clearly like talking about them.

However, who owns the cows and what purpose do they serve? only few seem to know. Some might think the school owns the cows since it owns the land on which they walk. Actually, the cows belong to the Fagundes Brothers Organic Dairy of Snelling, their barn only three miles from campus. Tours are available by appointment or phone.

The cows may be fun to look at, but they mean much more than aesthetics to the university.

The land on which the cows graze is home to vernal pools, or areas of water that form wetlands for plants and animals. The water supply is mostly from rain, and the wetlands are mainly used for university-level research and education.

According to Merced’s Vernal Pools and Grassland Reserve, “UC Merced is designing and managing an ecosystem where the community can learn [alongside] researchers and students, getting up-close views and gaining first-hand experience with the fascinating springtime pools, their fragile flora and endangered fauna, and exploring the unique soils found in this region.”

The UC Merced Reserve is part of the UC Natural Reserve System as of January 2014, which was decided by a UC Regents vote. It is now part of a network of 39 permanently protected reserves in California.

The cows, referred to on the UC Merced’s Vernal Pools and Grassland Reserve website as dairy cattle, but more specifically Holstein heifers, graze on the grass in the wetlands and regulate the amount of grass that, in too much quantity, can draw too much water from the vernal pools.

“Special Safety Considerations” on the website notes precautions when near the cows. The cows are not dangerous but curious. “Cows may approach parked vehicles or equipment that is left unattended; they will lick or bite plastic or metal, and they will knock things over! Do not leave valuable objects where they can attract the interest of cows.”

When asked if students are allowed to interact with the cows, Christopher Swarth, Director of Merced Vernal Pools and Grassland Reserve at UC Merced’s Natural Reserve System, responded, “No, students cannot interact with cows! What would you do, pet them?”

At this point, you are most likely wondering – what about cow tipping? It seems to be a childish topic of interest, but for an article on cows, it should probably be addressed. If you did not get the memo already, the sneaky act of “pushing over” a sleeping cow is only an urban myth.

Research released from the University of British Columbia proves that it is not possible, for two main reasons. One, cows do not stand while they are sleeping, which is when pranksters would hypothetically tip over a cow. Second, there is a mathematical formula showing that the force is too great to push over a cow; let alone get in close enough proximity to one before it moves away.


Allie Teaze
News Editor

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