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If you think this is weird, you should have seen the Alien Autopsy novelty lamp...

"Why would alien beings travel light years through space in order to play doctor on cattle?"
Agent Dana Scully, The X-Files, "Eve"
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When UFOs fly over a farm, it always seems that the first thing they do is to beam up the farmer's cows with their Tractor Beam. Alien abduction accounts being what they are, you'd think they'd be more interested in the farmer, but where else would you test a tractor beam but on a farm?

This is actually a great example of a Dead Unicorn Trope. Like Anal Probing, "Cattle Abductions" were never really suspected alien encounters in the first place; but they've become popular as a sort of satirical combination of cattle-mutilation stories (compare the similar urban legend of el chupacabras) and Alien Abduction stories. It's also a useful trope for designating aliens that are up to no good, but in a comedic or nonthreatening way (the sight gag of a mooing cow being tractor-beamed up into a flying saucer). Sometimes it's even played as a kind of obsessive-compulsive disorder: they just can't resist beaming the creature up.

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Not to be confused with Aliens Steal Cable — although if they've been watching too many Westerns, that may be where they got the idea.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

     Advertising  
  • The television commercial for Fandangles Toffee Whoopee Cookie ice-cream features Little Green Men flying around in cookies and using strands of sticky caramel to abduct cows.
  • There's a brand of milk, Molocow, which comes in conical glass bottles. There's a silhouette of a levitating cow on the front of each bottle, and the bottles' caps are shaped like little flying saucers.

     Anime and Manga  
  • In the manga prologue for the Fullmetal Alchemist Wii game, a photo of this is seen on the back of the newspaper. Interestingly, Arakawa often depicts herself as a cow, to show her Hokkaido roots.
  • Shows up in the ending credits to the anime version of Level E.

     Card Games  
  • Illuminati has a card called "Cattle Mutilators," which gives a bonus to the player who is playing as the Aliens.
  • Martian Fluxx features two "cow" Keepers.
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    Comic Books 
  • Cleaning up after alien cattle mutilations is seemingly one of the jobs of R-Complex in Scare Tactics. The Men in Black who have to do it do not enjoy the duty.
  • One issue of Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam (which also was part of a DC Kids anthology for Free Comic Book Day) had the Space Ghoul doing this. One farmer cunningly disguises his cows with clothes and false beards, though this doesn't work for long. It turns out that the Ghoul thought the cows were sapient and wanted to ask them an important question: where he could find a hamburger with cheese?
  • Played for laughs in The Far Side, where an angry farmer yells to his wife to fetch his shotgun, because "those dang aliens are after the chickens again!"

    Film 
  • In Sneakers, the conspiracy nut Mother claims that President Dwight D. Eisenhower did a deal with the aliens: They got all the cattle they wanted in exchange for alien technology.
    Mother: But the key meeting took place July 3rd, 1958, when the Air Force brought the space visitor to the White House for an interview with President Eisenhower. And Ike said, "Hey look, give us your technology, we'll give you all the cow lips you want."
    • Becomes a Brick Joke later on, when Mother is reading the newspaper and casually says, "Cattle mutilations are up" like he's reading the stock reports.
  • Parodied badly in Zoom: Academy for Superheroes, which features a sequence where the heroes use their flying saucer-looking ship to abduct a cow as a joke.
  • Parodied in Mars Attacks!, when the first shown encounter the Martians have with earth involves a herd of cows. The twist is that, instead of abducting them, the aliens simply sets the herd on fire. This scene was taken directly from one of the original Mars Attacks! trading cards. When the Martians actually DO attack, they will be a highly advanced race evolved FROM cows.
  • In the Men in Black parody Men In White, the heroes use a cow as bait to find some aliens, because "everyone knows aliens are crazy about cows!" One of the flying saucers is even seen to have a "GOT COWS?" bumper sticker.
  • Cattle mutilation seems to be the motivation of the aliens in The Return, but it's actually a man who (probably) mistakenly believes this is what the aliens want.
  • The extraterrestrials in Cowboys & Aliens don't explicitly steal Dolarhyde's cattle, but do blow them to pieces with their aircraft guns.
  • The little green men in Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County are introduced attacking a cow.

    Folklore 
  • There is an account of a UFO "cattle abduction" in 1897 which may be the Trope Maker. A man named Alexander Hamilton (not that one) reported that a "mysterious airship, crewed by six of the strangest beings I ever saw" had appeared over his ranch and carried off a cow on the end of a rope. Today, this story is regarded as a hoax.
  • Not aliens and UFOs, but old folklore used to say that The Fair Folk would come to steal livestock if not properly appeased with offerings and/or warded off with cold iron, making this trope, or at least the spirit of it, Older Than They Think. Sometimes when this happened to horses, the supernatural thieves would return them in the morning, but the poor critters would be too exhausted to work because the fae had been riding them all night.

    Literature 
  • The Discworld novel Hogfather features a throwaway reference in a footnote to some confused aliens mutilating corn and forming cows into a circle. "The truth may be out there, but lies are inside your head."
  • Animorphs:
    • In the last Megamorphs book (set mostly in an alternate timeline) Ax attempts to communicate with cows before humans, having falsely assumed them to be the dominant species. Since Andalites are four-legged grazers themselves (resembling centaurs) it's implied that he was just biased by their vaguely similar shape. It's also mentioned that there happened to be a lot of them around, and that's also why he figured they were in charge.
    • In The Andalite Chronicles the Skrit-Na, a race of not-so-bright traders and pirates, are responsible for a lot of Alien Tropes on Earth (The Grays are their juvenile forms). Among other things Elfangor is unsure why they kill cattle on Earth sometimes.
  • In the comic neo-noir Mr Blank, when the protagonists infiltrate the local HQ of the Little Green Men, there's a herd of cattle on the premises, just wandering around.
  • Joe Pickett: This is one the theories put forward to explain the animal mutilations in Trophy Hunt. Joe does not buy this theory for a moment.

    Live Action Television 
  • The X-Files
    • Subverted in the episode "Eve". Mulder presents a case involving dead exsanguinated cows and a man murdered in the same way. His theory is that its the work of aliens, and he is usually right to certain degree. In this case, however, he was completely off. Murderous creepy little cloned girls created in a Super Soldier project were the villains of the episode.
      Mulder: Are you at all familiar with the phenomena of cattle mutilations? Since 1967, over 34 states have reported unsolved cases of cattle mutilations. Trace evidence is remarkably similar. Incision marks of surgical precision. The area around the mouth and often the sexual organs have been removed. There's a substantial degree of blood loss but not a trace of blood at the scene.
      Scully: Mulder, why would alien beings travel light years through space in order to play doctor on cattle?
    • Episode "Bad Blood" also featured Mulder's slide show of several pictures with exsanguinated cows, but this was, in Mulder's opinion, a case of classic vampirism, and the aliens were not even brought up.
  • Murdoch Mysteries: The episode "The Annoying Red Planet" played with this trope. First, a farmer is found dead in a weird position hanging on a tree. Then mutilated cows appear with strange footprints all over the place, so Constable Crabtree concludes the Martians might be involved.
  • Mentioned in the JAG 3rd season episode "Vanished". While investigating the disappearance of an F-14 near The Bermuda Triangle, Bud asks Harm if he believes in the possibility of extraterrestrial life: Harm sarcastically writes it off by stating he doesn’t believe that flying saucers comes to Earth stealing cows and hillbillies.
  • In Grimm, cattle mutilations are caused by an alien-like Wesen, who get very specific Wacky Cravings when pregnant.

    Magazines 
  • Often a topic for discussion in strange-things monthly Fortean Times.

    New Media 

    Pinball 

    Toys 

    Video Games 
  • Crop Circles: Escape From Planet 3 is about a flying saucer stealing cattle and creating Crop Circles.
  • There is an old flash game called Cow Abductor, which involves a flying saucer sucking up cows via a Tractor Beam.
  • Inverted in Deus Ex where it suggests that cattle mutilations were done by humans to create the Grays as a distraction for the conspiracy.
    I'd like to investigate the possibility of resurrecting the bovine manipulation project (MJID-9803HU8932), with an eye towards recreating the "Gray" lifeform — while the project was deemed a failure at the time, it _was_ successful as a propaganda tactic in diverting attention away from actual Dreamland research. With recent advances in genetic science, the Gray lifeform could be engineered to protect MJ12 facilities while also serving as a useful bit of meme indirection.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, where aliens steal cattle but no one knows what they are, so they call them "ghosts". If you don't stop them, they abduct Romani, and when she returns she's not the same.
  • Freshly-Picked Tingle's Rosy Rupeeland, which might be referring to Majora's Mask. Either way, by the time Tingle arrives at Lon Lon Meadow, aliens have already abducted the cows and brought them back. The cows now all sport purple alien heads.
  • The player can actually do this in the original Destroy All Humans! Careful with the hatch there. "MOOOO" CLUNK. Hilarity. In relation to the intro text, the aliens mistake the cows for the dominant earth life form. Which kind of makes sense. They stand around all day, get fed and milked by the two legs...
  • In the first X-COM game, UFO: Enemy Unknown, some of the UFOs had medical bays containing mutilated cattle corpses. Turns out to be a rare example that has a non-comedic explanation; they're trying to work out what Earth livestock they can use for food after they conquer the planet.
  • One mini-game in a Spyro the Dragon game involves stopping aliens from kidnapping cattle. Later inverted in a stage where you have to defend a robot city from alien sheep in UFOs.
  • In the Earthworm Jim 2 level "Udderly Abducted", you need to carry cows to a milking facility to open gates. You are hindered in this task by a ship that comes steal your cows as soon as you drop them on the way, which happens every time you have a cliff to scale.
  • In the Vehicle Combat game Critical Depth, the C.I.A. provide an alien race with fresh bovine placentas in return for their staying under wraps.
  • Appeared as a brief sight gag in a light-hearted Final Fantasy VIII side-quest. Among other things, such as Moai heads.
  • The bonus stages in Super Space Invaders 91 are precisely this (shoot flying saucers to stop them stealing cows, or shoot the saucer but not the cow before they fly off the screen with it, bonus for the number of cows saved as well as the amount of flying saucers destroyed). They still called it Cattle Mutilation, though.
  • In Toy Commander one level sees you defending the cows from alien saucers. They're all models however as it's nothing but a child playing with his toys.
  • Universe at War has cattle as a valuable resource for the Hierarchy faction, because collecting organic resource is immediate, and cattle is worth 500 each. This fact is actually pointed out in the campaign, where the advisor told you that they're highly valuable.
  • This pops up as a sidequest in Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates' multiplayer mode. It's also in Crystal Bearers with a sheep variant as well as cows.
  • One of the many things you can do during the space stage in Spore. Also, prior to the space stage, you may see this happen - from the cow's perspective!
  • The premise of Flock: You are an alien. You steal sheep.
  • The SPARROWS unit in Metal Slug 3 apparently caught on to the Mars People returning to Earth when they received numerous reports on cattle abductions.
  • One of the Frontier missions in Scribblenauts has an alien in a UFO stealing cattle, you're job is to stop him from doing it. On that note, in Super Scribblenauts, both aliens and martians will attack cows.
  • Area 51. Bonus content reveals cattle mutilations are because of aliens with mental illnesses. Little green men need Prozac too.
  • Sam and Max joke about this in Sam & Max: Freelance Police "Chariot of the Dogs": "(The chair in the UFO is) made from the leather of the finest mutilated cattle". This comment makes Bosco, who has turned into a half-cow, very uncomfortable.
  • During the Duck Hunt-styled game in Wii Play you have to shoot various moving targets. The final targets are UFOs trying to steal the player's Miis. At the end of the round you get a Bonus for any Miis saved.
  • After playing a few gigs in the farm venue in Lego Rock Band, there is a cutscene where your bassist is abducted by a flying saucer. As the UFO starts flying away, it doubles back to beam up a cow, if only to reference this trope.
  • In the Fallout 3 expansion Mothership Zeta, you can collect various audio tracks of the aliens forcing abducted earthlings to speak, which most of them give their name and some info as to what time period they were taken from. One of these tapes features a cow mooing. Elsewhere on the ship, the player can find a button which beams a Brahmin (that's one of the two-headed mutated cows found around the wasteland) into a room to be immediately vaporized by an upgraded alien weapon. In one section of the ship you end up in a trash elevator with Sally (the abductee who's been serving as your guide through the ship). The elevator keeps stopping at and opening up the hatch at different floors. Most of the floors feature aliens who'll shoot at you, but one floor has a herd of Brahmin (the aforementioned 2-headed cows), causing Sally to shout "Cows, we've got cows!".
  • The iPhone game Tower Madness has the aliens trying to abduct sheep from your farm instead of cows.
  • The Android game Abducted! has, as the main character, a cow whose herd has been abducted. She attempts to rescue them by jumping up to the UFO.
  • Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty has Otacon briefly referring to this trope when interpreting (badly) a certain Chinese Proverb for Solid Snake, much to his (understandable) confusion. Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker also refers to this trope, this time with the implication that the CIA was responsible for the cattle mutilations.
  • Star Control 2: it never comes up directly, but if you ask the human commander about the Arliloulalea, he will mention that very little is known about them, except they've apparently been monitoring our world for awhile, and crack up whenever somebody mentions cattle.
  • Spoofed in Danganronpa. Conspiracy Theorist Yasuhiro Hagakure tells his incredulous classmates that he once bought lunch from a new fast food restaurant touting 100% beef burgers. As he was leaving the building, his burger was suddenly ripped out of his hands by a UFO tractor beam, which then proceeded to dissect it in midair and take only some of the burger patty, returning the rest of the burger to him. He immediately stormed right back into the restaurant and accused them of false advertising, because everyone knows aliens only steal cows, therefore the burger obviously wasn't 100% beef or else they would have taken the whole patty.
  • Appears in Perfect Dark, where the Skedar are said to have mutilated cattle while searching for a lost Doomsday Device. Why exactly they thought this would help them find it is unexplained.
  • Choro Q HG 4 has a track in a rural area. During night races on this track, it's possible to see this trope in action as a UFO beams up a cow.
  • In the mobile game Cow Evolution, an adorable Martian will appear and request cows once you evolve big enough cows to unlock the global stage. He's nicer than most examples of the trope since he trades your cows for Rubies, which are basically Martian currency for the player to buy Martian Cows.
  • In Stellaris, the icon for "active study" of pre-FTL species (which involves abductions) is a cow caught in a tractor beam.
  • In WarioWare Gold Orbulon does this in his stage (albeit with pigs instead of cattle) in order to have them processed into burgers at the local fast food joint.
  • Dumb Ways to Die 2's "Area Fifty-Dumb" segment has one minigame where the player must save cows from being abducted by UFOs.
  • A Hat in Time: One of the relic sets depicts a Flying Saucer abducting several cows. Hat Girl, being an alien herself, dubs the completed set "Mockery of Off-Planet Life" and is extremely offended that this is what the planet's inhabitants think of aliens.
    What the heck! Spaceships don't look like that! Where's the wood? Why is it sucking up cows? This is insulting! I'm gonna sue!

    Webcomics 
  • Parodied in General Protection Fault, in which the aliens reveal that they really love cheese - but have no idea how to make it.
  • Irregular Webcomic! has a cattle mutilation happens because one of the Martians misinterpret the order to survey Earth's military force.
  • Cattle mutilation is one of the myths about aliens that Princess Voltuptua vehemently denies in The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob!.
  • Sam in Freefall has stated that he doesn't steal cattle because they bite him. He also thinks that they (and all earth animals for that matter) are the reason that aliens never made contact with earth, of course his species is apparently quite tasty. A case of Truth in Television. Most people who have never been around cattle presume them to be docile and harmless creatures. In reality, cattle are often very skittish and sometimes very aggressive. They also weigh close to or upwards of a ton. They also kill more people per year than sharks do.
  • The Neptarians in Casey and Andy like nothing better than "some good old-fashioned cow-burning and inbred-yokel abduction". There's also their fantasy-universe counterparts the Zarb, whose king "enjoys cows in an impure way".
  • In the Insecticomics, when Kickback claimed to be a cowboy to avoid getting a job, Shrapnel and Bombshell called his bluff and brought him a herd of cows so he could work (and to serve him right). The cows were, presumably, stolen. And the Insecticons are alien robots, so...
  • Gary in Sequential Art. was sent to collect the cow lips while his fellow Eldaks Exterminate! a dangerous human.
  • In Sinfest, Xanturian invaders plan this.
  • In Shifty Look's Katamari, the Prince has to deal with a mysterious UFO abducting all the cows (and anything made from cows or even vaguely resembling cows) on Earth.
  • Discussed and averted in Alien the Alien. "[T]hat's only in your stupid earth movies."
  • In Matchu, the Space Cops steal a cow off a farm, and later it's revealed they've been keeping it as a pet until Wheezy gets fed up with its messes and demands Lala get rid of it.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Parodied on South Park; the aliens actually consider cows to be the most intelligent species on the planet (it helps they communicate in "moo"s). When one cow asks about the abductions and mutilations:
    Alien 1: Oh, that was Carl. He's new.
    Alien 2: Yeah, my bad.
    • However, in the original version of that episode, the aliens mutilate the cows because they like BBQs.
  • Happens in one episode of Teen Titans. The aliens steal the cows because their milk serves as fuel. According to Starfire, there's also a planet of cow people. Vicious cow people no less.
  • Invader Zim had an episode that started out like this. Zim was infecting the cows with E. coli, in order to give humans all diarrhea. Interestingly enough, this plan might have actually worked if it weren't for GIR.
  • Lampshaded in an episode of Ben 10: Alien Force by a Galvanic Mechamorph who is frustrated with Ben.
    "No wonder most aliens choose to communicate with your livestock."
  • One Underdog story provides quite a sensible explanation for this phenomenon. Why would aliens want cattle? For their milk! But what kind of aliens would want milk? Giant cats! When their planet's milk supply runs out, their leader Overcat steals all of Earth's cattle, and then abducts Sweet Polly Purebred to be the milkmaid.
  • The VeggieTales video "Larry-Boy and the Fib from Outer Space" twice references a movie called Invasion of the Cow Snatchers, in which aliens abduct cows, switch brains with them, and then return them to the pastures in order to infiltrate Earth's society.
  • The Mr. Men Show: This happens in the episode "Full Moon."
  • The Powerpuff Girls: episode "Daylight Savings", Bubbles stops an alien from abducting a cow.
  • Steven Universe: Near the start of "Steven's Dream", Greg and Steven are watching a sci-fi movie about aliens who steal cows. Apparently, they did this in order to get milk for their "cereal planet".
  • Referenced in Voltron: Legendary Defender when the the crew picks up Kaltenecker the cow in an alien store selling Earth merchandise

    Real Life 
  • Purportedly Truth in Television. Well, has its basis in Real Life legends and conspiracy theories, at any rate.
    • To clarify, "cattle mutilations" is a widely popular form of alien lore; it's still being researched today, with government funded officers, even.
      • Apparently, the cows die of natural causes, and very specific areas decay and get guzzled up by maggots first, often with scalpel-like precision.
    • Maybe the aliens like a good steak?
      • More like some good Rocky Mountain oysters, as it's more often the genitals of the dead animal that are missing than the high-grade cuts of beef.
    • Another theory is that at least some of these mutilations were carried out by people who had some vendetta against the rancher owning the cows in question. Then they conveniently stayed silent when people thought space aliens were doing it.
      • Except identical "mutilations" have been found on carcasses of wild animals like elk and coyotes. Really, only the "maggots and other scavengers" explanation holds water once the phenomenon is studied without being overly-focused on things that moo.
    • While its unknown if they have anything do with starting the misconception, cattle rustlers have capitalized on the belief by attaching lights and speakers to their trucks to mimic UF Os, which scares the hell out of ranches. Before you laugh, consider that most ranching in the United States takes place in deserts, the sheer isolation of which can be pretty terrifying at night even without anything allegedly paranormal.
  • MUFON has a nod to this on their website; just mouse over the saucer on the top right.
  • Usually debunked in the form of predation. Or sometimes the cattle were stolen, or just escaped. It must be embarrassing when someone claims that alien stole some of their cattle, and a few hours later, a neighbor calls them and tells them the cattle are grazing on said neighbor's crops, down the road.
  • Charismatic TV scientist Carl Sagan asked what signs an approaching alien would detect from space that indicated Earth held life and the planet was worth investigating. Humiliatingly for the human race, Sagan explained that aliens would detect that something on Earth was producing methane in large quantities. In an oxygen-rich atmosphere, a surplus of methane means its presence has to be a by-product of life. Therefore cows farting can be measured by a space-borne spectrometer. Aliens might consider cows to be the dominant life form as there are so many of them...note  therefore they would be inclined to probe cows rather than people.
  • For much of early human history, cattle were stolen by aliens all the time — "aliens" as in the alien human tribe next door. Livestock rustling has been a common criminal pursuit since the dawn of agriculture.

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