Cow Lifespan: How Long Do Cows Live?

Best farm animals

Written by Jennifer Gaeng

Updated: June 30, 2023

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How Long Do Cows Live? infographic
The natural lifespan of cows ranges from 15 to 20 years.

Cows have a natural lifespan of 15 to 20 years. However, their lives, like those of other farm animals, are significantly shortened by the meat and dairy industries. Here, we’ll explore the subject to answer the question, “How long do cows live?” and look at how this differs from the longevity of non-consumption cows.

How Long Do Cows Live?

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According to research, cows are generally quite intelligent animals who can remember things for a long time.


Absent farming needs, cows have a typical lifespan of 15 to 20 years. That lifespan could even understate their longevity. Guinness World Records lists the oldest cow as 48 years and nine months old.

Long-lived cattle can be found around the world. However, the dozens of millions of cattle being slaughtered each year mean that they rarely get to live out their full lives.

Dairy Cow Lifespan

It is possible for cows to live for at least 15 to 20 years, and in some cases longer.

© Kuhl

How long do cows live in the dairy industry? At six years of age, or when it is no longer able to produce milk, dairy cows are often killed for meat. Dairy farmers put cows’ bodies through extreme strain, rendering them unable to stand or move in some situations. Because of this degradation, dairy cows’ meat is commonly used in lower-priced meat products such as ground beef.

The dairy and beef industries are inseparable, even though the two industries are unrelated. Dairy cows produced 21% of the commercially sold meat in the United States in 2018. Some cows are slain on dairy farms, not to be sold for human consumption.

Beef Cow Lifespan

Beef cattle live to around 2 to 3 years of age before they are slaughtered. Cattle from six months to one year are put to feedlots to be matured to market weight. Large feedlots produce 80-85% of the country’s cattle.

Some advocate slaughtering cows for meat at an older age. However, the argument poses severe ethical issues. For example, while delaying slaughter may lessen infanticide, it may also prolong factory farm suffering.

Calves Lifespan

Gender affects a calf’s longevity in agriculture. In the dairy sector, they sell female calves that can’t produce enough milk to be raised for meat. Many male calves are killed as soon as they are born because the firm deems them unprofitable. Others are “matured” to make veal or beef.

At three days old, calves can be taken from their mothers and placed in small hutches or cages known as “veal crates,” where they are kept in isolation. In turn, this slows muscle growth and yields the gray, delicate meat that veal producers seek. They are typically killed at 16 to 18 weeks. Calves are butchered in the United States at a rate of 700,000 per year.

Do Cows Make Good Pets?

Because of their size and strength, cows require a lot of resources to survive, such as land, a place to hide from the rain, and food.

©Angusmclellan – Public Domain

Cows can make great pets! Oftentimes, people think of cows as animals that are used for meat and milk production on farms. Cows have more personality than most people realize, and many people maintain cows for their companionship.

Cows can be extremely affectionate and eager to meet new people. Even cows who have been abused in the past, time and patience can heal wounds and help them trust again. Cows are incredibly clever, emotional, and affectionate. It is common for cows to display their affection in a dog-like manner, such as following you around and licking your face, as well as allowing you to pet them.

How to Help Your Cow Live Longer

Because of their size and strength, cows require a lot of resources to survive, such as land, a place to hide from the rain, and food. Also, cows are far more sanitary than you may expect. Clean water, a well-maintained environment, and good grooming are all things that they need.

However, for those who have the resources, time, and patience to raise a simple and happy cow, here are some tips to help them live longer!

Ample Housing and Space

A single cow or calf doesn’t need expensive housing. You’ll be fine if you can build a simple box stall. Remember that cows prefer to graze and roam. You can’t have a cow as a pet if you live in the city or have a little yard. A couple of acres of fenced-in territory for the cow to wander, jump, play, and graze is essential. You must also maintain a sturdy fence. You don’t want to spend time chasing a cow around the neighborhood!

Lots of Clean Water

A cow can drink up to thirty gallons of water every day! This number rises in the summer and when a female is nursing. Plus, cows avoid dirty, frigid, or unclean water. You can’t keep a cow if you can’t supply clean, lukewarm water every day. If you own a property with a clean pond, this might suffice.

Plenty of Food to Graze

A cow’s stomach has four separate sections, so they spend most of their time consuming, regurgitating, and chewing grass all day. Cows still require hay and cow feed, even if they have plenty of grass to graze on. Store grains and hay in a clean, dry place free of dirt. Never give them rotting hay or grain.

Regular Grooming

Cows attract a lot of flies. Flies like to lay eggs in excrement, and cows have plenty of that around. Because flies also feed on their blood, they might spread diseases like anaplasmosis, a blood illness that can cause miscarriages and death in cattle. To keep these pests off your pets, you’ll need fly sprays and insecticides.

Cows’ hoofs also need trimming every few months. Dirty stalls can cause foot rot and other bacterial illnesses. This is a process that is best left to a professional farrier. A farrier is an expert in equine hoof care. A competent farrier should have all the tools needed to confine and trim cow hooves safely. A cow chute is also excellent for all cow care needs. This helps to alleviate stress and keep your cattle relaxed while you work on them.

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About the Author

Jennifer Gaeng is a writer at A-Z-Animals focused on animals, lakes, and fishing. With over 15 years of collective experience in writing and researching, Jennifer has honed her skills in various niches, including nature, animals, family care, and self-care. Hailing from Missouri, Jennifer finds inspiration in spending quality time with her loved ones. Her creative spirit extends beyond her writing endeavors, as she finds joy in the art of drawing and immersing herself in the beauty of nature.

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