10 Incredible Cow Facts

Written by Jennifer Haase
Published: June 13, 2022
Image Credit ChameleonsEye/Shutterstock.com
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Cows seem like simple, docile creatures. But there’s more to these animals than meets the eye! From their unique physical traits to their profound emotional intelligence, cows are truly fascinating creatures. Here are 10 incredible cow facts that might make you look at cows differently.

Did you know if you upset a cow, it might hold a lifelong grudge? Or that most bovines probably swim better than you do? Read on to learn more incredible facts about cows.

1. Cows have best friends

Cows are social animals that form close friendships.

Angusmclellan – Public Domain

It’s no secret that cows are social animals. They form close bonds with other cows and even become attached to humans. But did you know that cows have best friends? Like us, they prefer to spend time with certain individuals and develop strong relationships with them.

Research shows that cows are more relaxed and content around their best friend. In addition, lactating cows produce more milk when they live happily near a best buddy.

Research also shows that separating cows from their best friends is deeply traumatic. Separation from their loved ones causes cows to bellow with grief. Cows also experience depression after losing their favorite companions or when left alone.

So, the next time you spot a herd of cattle, see if you can tell which ones are best friends! And if you consider raising cows, make sure to raise them in multiples and pay special attention to their relationships. Cows with best friends are happier, healthier, and more enjoyable to have around.

2. Cows can smell you from 6-miles away

brown cow with tongue sticking out
Cows have a strong sense of smell.

The next time you try to sneak up on a cow, don’t be surprised if they smell you long before they hear or see you. The cow’s keen sense of smell detects scents up to 6 miles away! This strong sense of smell allows cows to distinguish between different types of plants, locate food, and avoid predators.

Cows can also remember many different scents – up to 50 or more! Some of the plant smells that cows remember include the smell of grass, the smell of clover, and the smell of alfalfa. Predator scents a cow recognizes include cougars, coyotes, and wolves.

A cow’s sense of smell is also essential for social interactions, as they use various scents to communicate with each other. For example, when a cow is in heat, it emits a unique odor that attracts bulls. Bulls also use scent to mark their territory and express dominance over other males. So the next time you think a cow is smelly, it might be for a good reason!

3. Cows are excellent swimmers

Cows are surprisingly strong swimmers and swim for many miles at a time. In addition, they have powerful legs and can easily paddle their way through the water.

Here’s an example of a cow’s incredible swimming ability. In 2021, a Netherlands cow made an epic 62-mile (100 kilometers) swim for survival in the Maas River during a flood. Her journey began when rising waters submerged her pasture. She managed to find her way to a nearby dyke, but with the rising water level, she had to swim for her life in strong currents. Finally, she was discovered and rescued despite her bobbing head camouflaged by a mass of floating debris. The farmer she belongs to says the lucky cow will spend the rest of her life grazing the pastures free from harm.

A cow’s ability to swim seems to be an instinct from birth, though calves learn from adult cow behavior. Calves swim short distances with their mothers and usually take to the water quite naturally.

4. Cows love a good challenge

Cow vs Heifer - Heifer
Cows are curious creatures that love to figure things out.

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Cows are curious animals who love to explore and investigate. Therefore, they constantly explore their surroundings. That’s why cows love to discover what makes things tick, even if there’s a challenging puzzle to solve.

Part of what fuels a cow’s curiosity is its high intelligence. For example, cows have been known to try and figure out how new objects work. Whether nudging a gate latch or even a computer mouse with their nose, cows love challenging themselves to figure stuff out.

A cow’s curiosity is a playful side of its personality, too. For example, some cows love to play hide and seek!

Cows also love music and being close to its source. Don’t believe us? Stand in or near a pasture full of cows and play a tune. Then get ready for many (if not all) of them to walk your way.

Though cows are curious and love a good challenge, their enjoyment of figuring things out depends on their control of the situation. If cows are confused or feel threatened, they shy away from questionable things.

5. Cows have a four-chamber stomach

The cow’s stomach consists of four chambers, the first three of which are used for digestion. The four stomach chambers work together to break down the food the cow eats so that it can be absorbed into the bloodstream and used by the cow’s body.

The first stomach chamber, the rumen, is where the cow’s food gathers first after eating. Here, the food breaks down with the aid of bacteria and other microorganisms that live in the rumen. The second stomach chamber, the reticulum, is where muscular contractions further break down the food. The third stomach chamber, the omasum, is where the food pulverizes into a liquid form before absorption. Finally, the fourth stomach chamber, the abomasum, is where most nutrient absorption takes place.

The cow’s stomach is a very efficient machine that allows the cow to extract the maximum amount of nutrients from its food.

6. Cows can produce up to 40 gallons of saliva per day

Do Cows Have Upper Teeth = Cow Mouth
A cow produces 20-40 gallons of saliva per day.

Vladimir Konstantinov/Shutterstock.com

Cows produce a lot of salivae, but did you know that they produce 20 to 40 gallons per day? This large amount of saliva helps cows digest more efficiently, including the effective breakdown of food through their four-chamber stomach.

According to Oregon State University’s blog called Dairy Bearing, adult cows “can eat upwards of 55 pounds of feed per day on a dry matter basis.” Producing 20-40 gallons of saliva per day is necessary to lubricate all of that dry feed in a cow’s digestive system. Plus, a surplus of saliva supports pH balance and fermentation in a cow’s gut.

Extra saliva also helps cows with “cud-chewing,” or the process of regurgitating and rechewing their food as part of their digestion process. This process is called rumination. With all that rechewing of chewed food, you’d think a cow would have a complete set of teeth. However, cows don’t have upper front teeth!

7. Cows lie around a lot but need very little sleep

brown cow laying in the field
Cows lie down to rest for up to 14 hours a day.

Cows spend up to 14 hours a day lying down to rest, but only about four of those hours are spent sleeping. For such big animals, it’s surprising that adult cows need half as much sleep as humans. However, the fact that cows lie down for more than half the day means they get extra rest. In addition, their habit of resting lengthens their lifespan because it helps them stay healthier overall.

In addition to relaxing their leg muscles, cows lie down for better digestion. Lying down decreases the occurrence of a common bovine disease called ruminal acidosis. With ruminal acidosis, large amounts of stomach acid from carb-heavy food build up in the rumen chamber of a cow’s stomach. Lying down helps cows produce more saliva, chew their cud (rumination) more often, and experience better digestion.

Also, lactating cows rest on the ground for higher milk production due to better blood circulation.

But we don’t mean to say that cows are lazy! On the contrary, when not lying down, cows are also efficient grazers, able to extract a large amount of food from a relatively small area of land. This trait makes cows ideal for grazing on pastureland, where they can quickly convert grasses and other vegetation into nutritious milk and meat. Their grazing habits also help keep pastures healthy by preventing the overgrowth of certain plants and promoting the growth of others. We think cows earn the right to rest their weary legs for many hours a day!

8. Cows hold grudges

In addition to creating solid friendships, cows remember bad experiences and the animals (including people) attached to them. So yes, cows hold grudges that sometimes last for life.

Animal welfare researchers at Bristol University found that cows have surprising and complex emotional intelligence. If you do them wrong or cause them pain, cows remember it for years and may never let it go.

A cow might hold a grudge against its owners if it’s moved to a new location, especially if moved away from its friends. Likewise, bulls hold grudges against other aggressive males. Also, dairy cows might hold the longest and most understandable grudges of them all when their young calves are taken away soon after birth.

The depth of emotion and attachment all animals feel isn’t exclusive to cows, but cows pay close attention to how you treat them. If you’re the source of a slight or their suffering, they might not forgive and forget.

9. Cows have a nearly 360-degree panoramic vision

Cow vs Heifer - Calf head
Cows have panoramic vision and a third eyelid.

Clara Bastian/Shutterstock.com

Cows have a panoramic vision of about 330-degrees because their eyes are on the sides of their heads. This wide range of eyesight allows them to see almost all around them without moving their heads. A cow’s panoramic vision helps protect it from predator attacks, among other threats to its well-being, like stormy weather.

The panoramic vision of cows isn’t the only thing special about their eyes. Cows also have a third eyelid that helps protect their eyes from debris and dust. And like humans, cows see colors, but they don’t see all of them.

10. Cows can’t see red

Sorry matadors, bulls see your flashy red capes as more of a yellowish-grey. Bulls (males) and cows (females) cannot see red because they lack a retina receptor for this color. Bovines seem to see blue, green, violet, and yellow but not the scarlet hues.

So, why are bulls agitated by a matador’s red cape? A bull charging a matador probably has more to do with the cloth’s movement than the color.

Cows Are Incredible!

cattle
Most cows love music and will follow the sound.

M. Vinuesa/Shutterstock.com

Cows are more fascinating creatures than most people realize. They build strong friendships, hold grudges, and can smell you coming from miles away! So the next time you see a cow, take a moment to appreciate these amazing animals. After all, the 10 incredible cow facts we shared here are only a tiny percentage of what makes cows impressive creatures.

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