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Are Cows Friendly?

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There are tons of adorable pictures of cows cozied up with kids all over the internet. As cute as they are in those often photoshopped images, are cows friendly? Can you just snuggle with a cute, fuzzy cow whenever you want?

Are cows friendly? Some cows are friendly, but some cows are not friendly at all and can even be dangerous. The more you learn about cows, the safer you can be when you are around one, whether they are friendly or not. Cows can be unfriendly for a few reasons and there are signs of aggression you need to know to stay safe.

Cows are not necessarily born unfriendly, but the way they are raised often plays an important role in how friendly they will be as they grow up.

mom and daughter meeting cow

The more you learn about cows, the more easily you will be able to distinguish a friendly cow from an unfriendly cow and you will know how you can train your cows to be more friendly.

How do you know if a cow is friendly?

Sometimes, it is easy to tell if a cow is friendly, but you should always approach all cows cautiously. Always assume that cows are unfriendly until you know for sure that they are not.

If a cow is friendly, they will allow you to get close to them without running away or acting frightened. A pacing cow who stares at you without looking away is an indication that the cow is suspicious of you and is not going to be friendly.

If the cow stays calm and doesn’t try to get away from you, there is a good chance may be friendly.  Still, if it isn’t your cow, use caution and definitely don’t go in the pen with a cow that isn’t yours unless you have permission.

girl holding cow head

Tips for Training a Cow to Be Friendly

With a lot of time and patience, you can usually train a cow to be friendly. They may never let you cuddle with them as you see on social media, but there is a good chance that you can teach a cow to let you pet them or at least get close to them without being afraid of them.

1. Let them see you daily

The more often your cow or cows see you, the less fearful they will be of you, which is a key factor in making them friendly. Overtime, they will understand that you are not a threat and they may get closer to you without showing aggression.  

2. Feed them from your hands

boy feeding cow by hand

Cows are very food motivated and they love eating treats. Always keep a fence, fence panel or stall door separating you from the cows to keep you safe.

You can feed cows treats like bread, pastries, or vegetables from your hand. If they will not eat from your hand, toss it inside their pen, stall or pasture and stay nearby while they eat.

Over time, they may learn that you are approachable and will be friendly to you in the hopes that you will feed them treats!

3. Reduce Stress

Do your best to keep your cows as stress-free as possible. It is a given that occasionally you will have to work or chase your cows, especially if they get out of their pen.

Nonetheless, the more often your cows can be moved and handled as slowly and calmly as possible, the more likely they are to be friendly.

4. Raise them from a young age

boy feeding cow grass

As with most animals, if a cow grows up from a young age on your farm, they will often become far more friendly than an adult cow you bring in from the outside.

Calves that are bottle-fed often tend to be extra friendly and are more likely to enjoy being pet when they are adults.  

6 Reasons Some Cows Friendly and Others Are Not

There are a few different reasons why some cows tend to be more friendly than others. In fact, some cows are so unfriendly they are actually dangerous. Here are some reasons why.

1. They were Born that Way

Some cows, unfortunately, are just born a little wild and there is little that any human can do to make them friendly. Linebreeding, when farmers breed closely related cattle, can produce cows that are a little on the crazy side of the spectrum.

Likewise, some cows, are just naturally more friendly and easier to tame. Each animal is an individual and should be treated as such.

2. They Had Limited Human Contact

You must keep in mind that some cows have not seen or been in close contact with humans at all. Some cows live on very large farms with plenty of grass to graze on, so unless they need medical attention, many cows are not used to interacting with people.

This makes them fearful when a human gets too close and they may be unfriendly because they are scared. When trapped in a situation they may choose the “fight” instinct instead of their flight instinct. This is especially true of bulls and cows with young babies.

3. Bad Experiences

Unfortunately, some cows have very negative experiences throughout their lives that make them untrusting of people, no matter how nice you are to them.

They have been mistreated or even injured by humans either intentionally or accidentally and they may never be friendly around people. 

4. Hormonal Changes

calf drinking milk

Hormone levels change as cows and bulls grow into adults. Bulls will become unfriendly when female cows are in heat. A bull ‘courting’ cows in a pasture can be very unfriendly to humans, especially if they are trying to separate the bull from the cows.

Female cows that have calves can become protective and unfriendly to any humans that get too close. They are especially more likely to attack you in the hopes of protecting their baby.

5. Food Frenzy

Cows can often become less friendly when they are fighting over food, if you are standing between them and food, or if you are holding some kind of food.

They may knock you down or injure you inadvertently as they try to get to the food. This isn’t necessarily intentional. They are big animals and they don’t quite comprehend their size in comparison to yours.

6. Pain or Stress

Cows that are injured or stressed out will often be unfriendly, even if they are normally more on the friendly side.

Pain and stress both cause hormonal changes that can cause cows to act differently than normal, even to the point they may hurt or try to attack you.

2 Big Signs a Cow May Be About to Attack

There are a few signs of aggression that you need to be aware of because even the friendliest cows can attack in the right situation.

1. Staring, Pacing and Grunting

Cows that are staring you down, pacing, and grunting are often warning you that they are about to attack.

2. Pawing the Ground or Stomping

Bulls and mother cows will lower their heads, stare you down and rake the ground with one of their front hooves right before they attack. They could also pick up a foot and forcefully stomp it on the ground as a warning.

If you see a cow acting this way, leave the situation immediately, but beware that running could cause them to attack anyway.

It is best to always have a quick escape plan when working cattle, staying as close as possible to the gate or a climbable fence.

bulls fighting

Why do cows attack?

Cows will attack humans for several reasons. Some cows simply do not like people and will attack just because they feel like it. This is not the norm, however.

Usually, when cows attack, it is for a specific reason. When female cows are in heat, a bull may attack a person that gets in their way or comes too close to their ladies.

Cows with calves on their side will attack when they feel like their calves are being threatened. Even if you have no ill will, some cows will assume you are there to cause problems.

Cows may also attack just to get past you when they feel cornered. If you are trying to corral your cattle and the way out is through you, know that the cow will likely run you over to escape. (source)

cow eating grass closeup

Can cows bite?

Although you may not have noticed, cows do not have top teeth at the front of their mouths! The teeth that you see when a cow opens its mouth are on the bottom of their mouth, even though it may not look like it.

Unlike horses, cows cannot technically bite you, unless you intentionally put your hand far in their mouth. Cows may not have front teeth at the top of their mouths, but they do have molars at the top and bottom of the back of their mouths.

Technically, a “bite” is an injury caused by a tooth. So any animal with even one tooth can “bite”….though it would be difficult for a cow to do so.

Can cows kick?

Cows can kick, and they will if they feel threatened or if they feel pain of some kind. While horses often kick straight back, cows are sneaky creatures in that they often kick out to the side or straight forward.

This means that a cow can easily kick you if you get too close. This is especially true when you have cows pinned up for some reason, like when giving vaccines or treating injuries. (source)

Final Thoughts

Not all cows are friendly and not all cows can be trained to be friendly, but if you have plenty of time and lots of patience, there is a possibility that you can train a cow to become friendly over time. The cows you see online cuddling with their owners are not an accurate representation of all cows, but every now and then, you can get lucky and raise a cow that will let you get close enough to snuggle, at least for a second!