Buffalo vs Cow: What Are the Main Differences?

Written by Kyle Glatz
Updated: October 14, 2022
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Buffaloes and cows seem to have a lot in common. They are both domesticated bovines that have large bodies, horns, and cloven hooves. In fact, both species are also used to produce milk and meat for their human owners, and there are relatively few wild members of their species. So, what are the differences between a buffalo vs cow? We’re going to show you how to differentiate these two creatures by looking at six particular factors. By the time you’re done reading, you’ll know all you need to tell them apart.

Comparing a Buffalo and a Cow

Buffalo vs Cow
Buffalos are popular for milk in Asia while cows are a more global source of meat and diary.
NomenclatureBuffalo refers to a specific, unique species– Specific meaning is female domesticated cattle that have given birth to calves
– Cow is also a term applied to any female bovine species
SizeWeight: 1,300lbs – 2,000lbs
Height: 3.5ft-5.6ft tall at the shoulder Length: 5ft-6ft
Weight: 880lbs- 1760lbs
Height: 4.5-5ft at the shoulder Length: 5ft-6ft
Horns– Long horns
– Horns grow horizontally from the head and then curve up and back toward the head
– Short horns
– Horns curve up or curve outward immediately
ColorBlack and grayWhite, black, brown, red, and patterned
LocationAfrica and parts of Asia (Water Buffalo)Every continent but Antarctica
Domestic UsesAfrican buffalo are not domesticated, but water buffalo in Asia are used for work, meat, and milkUsed for calving, meat, and milk

The 6 Key Differences Between a Buffalo vs Cow

World's Scariest Animal: Cape Buffalo

Cape buffalo are larger and have bigger horns than cows.

©PACO COMO/Shutterstock.com

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The greatest differences between a buffalo vs cow lie in their size, horns, and colors. The average buffalo grows larger and taller than the cow, weighing several hundred pounds more.

A buffalo’s horns are long and grow horizontally from the head before curving up and back toward the head. Cow horns are short and curve up or outward as soon as they begin growing.  

Buffaloes are black, but their hair starts to become grayer with age. Cows’ hair can be white, black, brown, and red while featuring unique patterns and spots.

These physical differences are the greatest ones that exist between a buffalo and a cow. However, they are not the only differences that exist. Take a closer look at other sorts of differences between these creatures.  

Buffalo vs Cow: Nomenclature

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Strictly speaking, cows are female domesticated cattle that have had one calf or more.

©David MG/Shutterstock.com

The meaning of the word buffalo is very specific in that it refers to the Syncerus caffer,a species that lives in Africa. The term cow is also specific to female domesticated cattle that have given birth to one calf or more.

However, both “buffalo” and “cow” are used for other creatures. Buffalo is sometimes used to describe the Bubalus Bubalis, also known as the water buffalo or Asian buffalo. Sometimes, the term buffalo is applied to the North American bison, but that animal is most certainly not a true buffalo.

The term cow primarily refers to female domesticated cattle that have had at least one calf. Yet, “cow” is a term that has been routinely applied to any female member of the Bovidae family and has no stipulations on whether it has been bred or not. These other animals are not truly misidentified, but they are not entirely accurate in the face of the existing and specific terminology for buffaloes and cows.

Buffalo vs Cow: Size

Buffaloes are bigger than cows. Buffalo can reach 2,000lbs in weight, stand 5.6ft in height at the shoulder, and grow about 6ft long. Cows grow up to a maximum of 1,700lbs, stand 5ft at the shoulder, and also grow to 6ft long. Thus, buffaloes are larger than cows, and the males of the species are more likely to reach the upper echelons of the ranges we have mentioned.

The heaviest true buffalo weighs almost 2,000lbs, and that honor belongs to the Cape Buffalo in Africa. Yet, some breeds of cattle can surpass this weight and size, but the largest average animal is the buffalo.

Buffalo vs Cow: Horns

Buffaloes have longer and more complex horns than cows. Cows’ horns are short and begin to curve upward and slightly toward one another. Buffaloes’ horns are very long, with males’ horns reaching over 5 feet in length total.

These horns grow horizontally from the mammal’s head and then curve back toward the buffalo’s head, facing outward to be used for defense. They’re very dangerous to the buffalo’s predators, capable of even killing a lion.

Just about all cows have horns, but many of them are cut before they reach adulthood, so they do not interfere in the processes of dairy farming.

Buffalo vs Cow: Color

cow and calf

Although the black and white dairy cow is iconic, they come in many colors.

©iStock.com/Diane Kuhl

Buffaloes are black, but their hair becomes gray with age. Cows can be black, white, brown, red, and other colors. Their hair will sometimes integrate patterns, or it may remain one solid color.

Along with the other factors that we have discussed here, color can be used as a good secondary form of differentiating the creatures.

Buffalo vs Cow: Location

Strictly speaking, buffaloes are from Africa. However, they have cousins that live in Asia, called water buffalo. For our purposes, the primary species of buffalo only live in Africa. Cows live everywhere in the world (excluding Antarctica) as they are one of the most popular sources of meat and milk.

Even if we strip away the definition of cows as being any female bovines, female domesticated cattle still live all over the world.

Buffalo vs Cow: Domestic Uses

water buffalo in the wild

Water buffaloes are domesticated, but African buffaloes are not.


Buffaloes are not domesticated in Africa, but water buffalo are used for their meat, milk, and ability to work. Cows are used for breeding and raising calves as well as for their meat and milk. The main difference, including the case of the water buffalo, is that cows are not used for their ability to work. Also, greater numbers of wild buffalo exist than wild cattle.

Another type of animal within the cattle family is used for that, and they are called oxen. Oxen are male cattle that have been castrated and are raised to obey the commands of the farmers for whom they work.

Many differences exist between buffaloes and cows. The two animals are very hard to confuse for one another, though. Their coloration, horns, location, and size make it almost impossible to mistake one for the other. Also, considering their domestic uses, the nomenclature surrounding their names, and locations in the world can clear up any lingering confusion or doubts about which animal is a cow or a buffalo.  

The photo featured at the top of this post is © BonnieBC/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

Kyle Glatz is a writer at A-Z-Animals where his primary focus is on geography and mammals. Kyle has been writing for researching and writing about animals and numerous other topics for 10 years, and he holds a Bachelor's Degree in English and Education from Rowan University. A resident of New Jersey, Kyle enjoys reading, writing, and playing video games.

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