November 2, 2020
AZ Animals Staff
- Main Prey
- Grass, Seeds, Flowers
- Distinctive Feature
- Thick leathery skin and complex digestive system
- Forest and grassland
- Human, Bears, Wolves
- Average Litter Size
- Favorite Food
- There are nearly 1.5 million worldwide!
Cow Physical Characteristics
- Skin Type
- Top Speed
- 25 mph
- 12 - 20 years
- 400kg - 800kg (881lbs - 1,760lbs)
- 1.5m - 1.8m (5ft - 6ft)
“…roughly one cow for every seven humans on earth…”
Cows are found all over the world. They were domesticated by humans over 10,000 years ago for work, dairy, meat and more. However, scientists are still learning much about their complex brains and emotions. These gentle giants range from 700 lbs, to as big as a car, with some having long horns, humps on their backs, colorful patterns or other cool traits! While technically a ‘cow’ only refers to a female, the term is often used to describe any animal of the species regardless of gender. The technically correct term for a group of animals in this species is ‘cattle’.
Top cow facts
- The largest cows grow to almost two tons, as big as a car!
- Cows are the second largest type of livestock in world, by number!
- A cow can produce over seven gallons of milk per day!
- Cows are sacred in parts of India and slaughtering a cow there is often banned.
Cow scientific name
The scientific name for a cow is Bos taurus. Bos Taurus is the largest in the category of bovinae. Two major subspecies of cow are the indicus and the taurus (or Bos taurus taurus). Indicus traces its roots to southern Asia, particularly modern-day India. Meanwhile, the taurus traces its roots to Europe.
Cow appearance and behavior
Cows come in a wide array of breeds, colors, sizes and even shapes! Standing on four legs with hooved feet, the average adult cow weighs a little less than a small car–about 1,500 pounds. This varies depending on breed, ranging from the Chianina cow, which grows to over 3,700 pounds, to the Dexter cow, which tops out at about 750 pounds. These breeds stand six feet and three feet tall at the shoulder, respectively.
Most cows have a thin layer of bristly hair, but certain breeds have longer hair. These skin and hair combinations come with a number of distinct patterns. The holstein is the most well-known style, with irregular black and white shapes, with a strip of white between their eyes. A “red” holstein has brown or reddish brown patches in place of the black. Angus cows are black from head to tail. The Highland cow features long, shaggy, brownish-red hair. Though there are hundreds, if not thousands, of breeds with different markings, most feature variations on gray, brown, black and white hides.
Indicus cows of any breed have another feature: a “hump.” This protrusion on the back of these cows’ necks are the easiest way to tell them from taurus cows.
Almost all cows have horns. These range in length and shape across breeds. Sticking almost straight out to the sides from its head and reaching roughly three feet long each, the horns on a Texas Longhorn cow are easy to spot. In fact, a Texas longhorn holds the Guinness World Record for cow horn length, measuring over ten feet long from one tip to another. Meanwhile, a Brahman cow has roughly six-inch-long horns that point up and back from its head. The English longhorn can have horns that point mostly downward, curving similarly to a sheep’s horns.
Cow intellect and emotion
Recent research has found that cows are really smart, complex animals! They can learn, have memories, figure things out and can even tell one cow from another. They have personalities too, with scientists documenting cows who are bold, shy, playful and other traits.
Cows also show emotion. When they’re scared or anxious one can see more of the whites of their eyes, such as when a mother is separated from her calf. In addition, their ears will hang more loosely when they’re feeling o.k. Their mood can also be affected by the mood of other cows, what scientists call “emotional contagion.” For example, a cow might eat less or act more anxious, simply because other cows in the herd are scared or hurt.
Cows survive in many climates and places. The indicus subspecies is better suited to tropical environments, while taurus cows can survive easily in wintery climates. In general, cows need access to a wide range of space, so they can graze on grasses. Whether in the mountains, jungle or wide open plains, cows can adapt to many different environments.
Cow are herbivores, which means they grass and other plants. Cows can eat a wide range of tough grasses thanks to their very unique way of eating. A cow will first bite plants or grass and swallow them unchewed. This unchewed food goes into its first stomach until later. When the cow finds a quiet place, it will begin to vomit the plants back into its mouth. This vomit is called “cud,” and the cow will chew the cud down into smaller pieces for further digestion.
Predators and threats to cows
Cow predators include dogs, coyotes, bobcats and similar animals. Because most cows are on farms, the threat of predators is typically small. In the United States, for example, only two percent of all farm cow deaths were the result of predators. Most of those predators were dogs, followed by coyotes.
The bigger threat to cows comes from disease. Because cows move in herds, one sick cow can quickly infect others. Depending on the type of infection, this can cause big problems. For example, some worry about a return of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD). FMD doesn’t affect humans, but can wreak havoc on cows. FMD is spread easily for miles, and can quickly infect a whole herd.
Governments take cow diseases very seriously. In 2003, reports that some U.S. cattle were infected with a disease called “mad cow disease” resulted in governments not allowing U.S. beef in their countries. This cost beef farmers roughly $11 billion in lost sales.
Cow reproduction, babies, and lifespan
Cows begin their life after a nine-month pregnancy. Following a live birth, the baby, known as a calf, will nurse for a few months before weaning. The baby can typically walk shortly after birth It will take about one to two years for a cow to grow to the point that it can start having babies of its own. Cows typically have one baby at a time.
Most farm cows are bred artificially–that is, a sperm is implanted in the cow. This helps farmers to avoid certain genetic problems.
As an adult, a cow will give birth to a single calf once every two years or so. Though the natural lifespan of a cow can go over twenty years, most cows don’t live too much beyond ten years. This is because the majority of cows are part of a farming operation, and after a few years of milk production, cows are typically then tagged for meat processing.
Numbering over 1.4 billion, there’s roughly one cow for every seven humans on earth. This makes cows and cattle the second most abundant farm animal in the world. Though there are select areas of wild cows, the majority of bos taurus are domesticated. This means they were raised to live on a farm.
Though cows in general are not at risk, certain breeds are significantly less common than others. Various conservation groups work to retain rare breeds of cow, such as the Dexter.
Cow FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
Are cows female?
Technically, a “cow” is a female that has given birth at least once. Prior to giving birth, the cow is called a “heifer.” Many people also use the term “cow” when talking about either male or female cattle. Cattle, however, is the common term for any member of the herd.
What is the purpose of a cow?
Throughout most of the world, cows are used for milk. After a cow gives birth, farmers let it nurse the baby calf with the special milk, called colostrum, for the one or two months it is produced. After that, the cow will then spend roughly 10 months producing around seven gallons of regular milk every day.
How many stomachs does a cow have?
A cow has four separate stomachs. The first two stomachs store largely unchewed food, while a cow waits for a better time. When it has the time, a cow will more thoroughly chew food from these stomachs, called “cud,” before swallowing it into one of the two other stomachs to finish digestion.
Where do cows come from?
Cows were domesticated as far back as 10,000 years ago from an animal called the Auroch. Aurochs were roughly twice the size of a modern cow, and are extinct today. The Aurochs domesticated from southern Asia became the bos taurus indicus subspecies of cow, while the Aurochs domesticated from Europe became bos taurus taurus subspecies.
How to say Cow in ...
- David Burnie, Dorling Kindersley (2011) Animal, The Definitive Visual Guide To The World's Wildlife
- Tom Jackson, Lorenz Books (2007) The World Encyclopedia Of Animals
- David Burnie, Kingfisher (2011) The Kingfisher Animal Encyclopedia
- Richard Mackay, University of California Press (2009) The Atlas Of Endangered Species
- David Burnie, Dorling Kindersley (2008) Illustrated Encyclopedia Of Animals
- Dorling Kindersley (2006) Dorling Kindersley Encyclopedia Of Animals
- David W. Macdonald, Oxford University Press (2010) The Encyclopedia Of Mammals