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Cows Can Swim, and Some Even Like It!

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When it comes to our animals, there are always some interesting facts that you learn. Cows are big, lumbering animals. They are heavy and muscular, so it seems counterintuitive that they would be able to swim or tread water. But, I’ve personally seen them do it so I decided to do a little more research.

Can cows swim? Cows can swim, even from a young age. Cowboys will often use horses go guide cattle across a river when changing pastures. Some types of cattle will even enter the water and swim without encouragement.

cows on water

Some species tend to have a natural ability or instinct to swim. This is true for cows and even very young calves can swim short distances.

Learning to Swim

If very young calves can swim, it stands to reason that you might wonder if cows have to learn to swim. It turns out, many studies were done on a variety of mammals in regards to swimming, so science does have some information for us on this topic.

According to Frank Fish, aquatic locomotion expert at West Chester University in Pennsylvania, mammals will tend to float and, if they can float, they can swim. (source)

Given that statement, we can reasonably infer that the reverse is also true. If an animal can swim, it can float. Therefore…

Cows can float and swim. They have a natural ability to tread water and can typically do so from birth. The distance they can travel will depend on the strength of the current and the fitness of the cow.

Now that we know cows can float and swim, that begs the question, do they like to swim?

Water Babies

Like many animals, there are two things cows don’t like, being hot and dealing with biting insects. Luckily, if there is water nearby, a cow can solve her own problems.

Do cows like water and enjoy swimming? Many cows love the water and enjoy wading in bodies of water to keep cool and avoid biting insects. Cattle typically only naturally swim when they have a specific destination to reach.

If there isn’t a lake, river or pond nearby, many cows will settle for whatever water is available. This dairy cow, for example, is making excellent use of her water trough to cool off on a warm day!

Water Safety with Cows

Cows can swim and some cows even like swimming. Even so, care should be taken with your cows. It is possible to teach your cows to like swimming but, you should do so carefully.

Anytime your cow is exposed to an open body of water, you should make sure that they can easily enter and exit. Just because cows can swim, doesn’t mean they can swim indefinitely.

If a cow falls into water, they need a way to get out before they become too tired and drown. In most cases, natural bodies of water will have sloping banks allowing a cow to easily swim to shore and exit the water.

cows through water

Unnatural bodies of water, like swimming pools and irrigation ditches, often have much steeper sides. In these cases, if a cow finds herself in the water, she may have trouble getting out.

They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Putting a fence around your swimming pool and any irrigation ditches will help to keep an accident from happening.

Famous Swimming Cows

The Cows of Crom

In the UK, a heard of cattle live on the Crom Estate on land surrounded by a network of rivers that create a series of islands. On a routine basis, sometimes daily, these cattle are encouraged to switch pastures, or grazing areas by swimming across the river.

The cattle are experienced swimmers and easily make the 100m trek (about 328 feet). When new cattle are introduced to the herd, more experienced cows lead the way, entering the water first and giving the new swimmers confidence to follow and cross. (source)

Dorian’s Disappearing Cows

Hurricane Dorian wreaked havoc on the Bahamas in 2019. While the Bahamas seemed to have taken the worst of it, Dorian left behind a wide path of destruction.

In North Carolina, a small group of cattle were found roaming Cedar Island in North Carolina just after Hurricane Dorian hit. According to a park ranger, these three cows are not native inhabitants of the island.

Instead, it is believed that they probably originated from the mainland and, during the storm, somehow managed to swim or float the 2 – 3 miles out to the island.

Not only did these cows apparently swim almost 3 miles, but they would also have done so in rough weather as well. Quite an amazing feat! (source)

So how far can cattle swim? Most cattle cannot naturally swim long distances without experience. In 2019, 3 cows were able to swim 3 miles from North Carolina to Cape Lookout National Seashore during Hurricane Dorian.

Professional Athletes

In India, racing cattle is a traditional sport many farmers participate in. The types of cattle races vary by region, but the practice is steeped in tradition.

In order to train their prized animals for competition, many farmers will use swimming as a form of exercise. As with human athletes, this no doubt reduces stress on the cow will still being an excellent way to increase muscle tone and improve cardiovascular performance.

Final Thoughts

While not traditionally water-borne animals, cows can swim and float. Some will even enjoy the task. Knowing this can make the average person much more at ease if they see a cow wading in a pond or other body of water. So the next time you see a cow cooling off, remember that as long as she doesn’t appear to be in distress, she should be OK in the water.