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Holy COW! What do I do?

Updated: Jan 26, 2022

A cow in San Diego County.
This photo is copyright of Jennifer Gutierrez. © 2019 - 2022 by Jennifer Gutierrez.

San Diego County has a deeply rooted cattle community and the heart of it is in the San Diego backcountry. Both dairy and beef cattle use to roam the entire county, even on the beaches of Del Mar, but as the county’s population grew, the number of ranches dwindled. Today cattle are still king from Warner Springs through Descanso and everywhere along the way. Almost all cattle operations are family-owned and operated. In fact, most local ranches are four to six generations deep. Ranchers are your neighbors!

Cow outside fence line in San Diego County.
Photo courtesy of Katie

Cattle Country

Living in cattle country means you might find a cow grazing on the wrong side of the fence. Sometimes fences fail. Cars drive into them, people cut them, or that old determined cow will test the fence to get to the greener grass on the other side. So, what do you do when you encounter a bovine traffic jam?

First, and most importantly, do not get out of the car. The odds are, that cow is mighty content grazing in the shoulder of the road. Cows are smart and she knows her rancher, but she doesn’t know you. Approaching her is going to scare the living daylights out of her. A panicked cow is a dangerous cow, she might run into traffic or she might run at you! You don’t want to be in the way of a 900 animal and her comfort zone.

Call a Rancher

Second, make a phone call. Ranchers do not want their cattle to be injured or killed on the highway. More importantly, they don’t want YOU to be injured or killed by hitting one of our cows on the highway. When we get the phone call that a cow is out, getting her back in is priority number 1. Many family barbeques, church services, and trips to the grocery store have been derailed by to us needing to switch gears and find a cow. The most important info we need is the location you saw her. Give us a cross street, a mile marker, or a landmark and we’ll find her. Many times, we’re close by and can be there pretty quickly. If you’re unsure who the cow belongs to or what pasture she came from, still call a rancher. The cattle community is pretty tight. We all know each other and we know who has cows where. We’ll help get her home.

Now if you don’t know any ranchers, you’re really missing out! We would really love to talk to you about cows and ranching, and swap BBQ recipes, but first, you should call law enforcement about the cow on the highway. Yes, it’s okay to dial 911 for a cow out on the road! If you’ve ever seen what our local wildlife can do to a car, imagine what a much bigger cow can do. The dispatcher will need to know what highway you’re on and other location information like cross streets and mile markers. Our local deputies and CHP officers are familiar with our ranching operations and know who to contact for cattle.

Bull in San Diego County ranching country.
Photo courtesy of Katie

Reach Out to Your Neighbors

Another alternative that we see often is posting a picture of the escapee on our community social media pages. That’s okay too, but might take us longer to see the post. Social media isn’t always timely, and not everyone has it. But if you do post, the most important information we need is still the location. Feel free to tag ranchers, someone who might know a rancher, or someone who just loves cows.

Ranchers appreciate all the help finding their cows and getting them back safe to pasture.

What to learn more about ranching? Visit the San Diego Cowbelles at or on social media.

Did you know fact - Did you know that cattle spend the majority of their life on green pasture? It’s true! San Diego is Cow Calf country. What that means is the majority of the cattle you see are cows (mammas) with their calves. In some operations the cow will be born here and spend her entire life in the San Diego sun raising her babies year after year.


Katie Ostrander is from the Diamond B Ranch in Warner Springs, CA. Alongside her husband, they are raising cattle, pigs, turkeys, chickens, and cowgirls. Katie is an active advocate spreading her passion for ranching through numerous speaking engagements and classes. Their ranch is founded on the principal of know your farmer, know your food. Keep up with Katie and her herd at or Instagram at DiamondB.Ranch


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