If you ever look at a herd of cows standing around out in the field, they usually look a little sad. They just stand around, chewing their cud. And of course, everybody knows how infamously grumpy bulls can be.
But is it possible that cows can be happy, even friendly? And do cows play amongst themselves, or with other animals or people?
Yes, cows can be friendly and they do play with other cows and with people. Friendliness is an individual trait in cows, but cows that are treated well and raised from birth among people tend to be friendlier than those that are abused or isolated.
You should never assume that a cow is going to be friendly, even one that you have raised and been nice to. They are large animals that can still act unpredictably.
But, generally it is possible to have friendly interactions with cows, and if you treat them well your cows will definitely start to like you.
Learn more about cows and their social interactions with other cows and with people below…
Are All Cows Friendly?
No. Not all cows are friendly, either by individual temperament, because of conditioning or because they were raised either in the wild or in an environment that was constantly stressful.
Generally speaking, cows that are raised with consistent and pleasant interactions with humans, plenty of food, adequate room, and in a safe environment will be much, much friendlier than those that go without.
Cows that grow up with none of those things tend to be quite hostile, as do cows that are abused, injured or hormonal.
Are Some Breeds Friendlier than Others?
Yes. Although conditioning and individual temperament are always factors of cows, there are quite a few domestic cow breeds that are famously friendly to people and even to other animals.
This can make them a great choice for beginners, for people who want to have more close interactions with their cows or for any new owners that are nervous about dealing with an agitated or mean cow.
For instance, the Brown Swiss cow is well known for its gentle, easygoing attitude that borders on true docility.
Jersey cows, among the most famous dairy cows, are similarly easygoing, though they can be more alert and independent.
Guernsey cattle can be difficult to come by in the United States compared to other popular domestic breeds, but have a famously warm and friendly temperament generally.
Shorthorns are not known to be particularly friendly, but they are generally calm and amenable to interactions with humans.
There are others, but these are some of the most well-known cows that are typically friendly. And just as a reminder, you cannot assume that any of these cows will be friendly just because of breed expectations.
It will still take lots of work, reinforcement and positive interactions on your part, and there’s always the chance that an individual cow is just grumpy and standoffish.
Do Cows Have Close Friends?
Yes, believe it or not! Cows are very social animals, and they form bonds within their own herd. These bonds might be familiar or they might be based on friendship alone.
Cows can also form bonds with other animals in some cases and with people.
Cows do not have particularly good eyesight, and their sharper vision is only reliable up close but they can definitely recognize their friends visually, and through sound and scent cues. This counts for you too!
In fact, multiple studies conducted in the US and in Europe have shown time and again that bovines across many species behave differently in the presence of their close friends and preferred companions, demonstrating more affectionate behaviors like licking and so forth.
So, if your cow comes running to see you once it recognizes you it might not be just because you are the one bringing the feed bucket, although treating them is a great way to get your cows to like you in the first place!
How Do Cows Actually Play?
Cows engage in all sorts of behaviors for play and recreation. One of the most common is simply just being around other cows that are calm and happy, or being around you if they like you.
Cows just like to be around their friends, and they commonly engage in grooming behaviors when not under stress. If your cow seems intent on licking you, just take it as a compliment!
Other things cows do for fun include exploring and grazing. Yes, cows spend a lot of time looking for something to eat, but if they aren’t under pressure they enjoy walking around looking for choice bits to chow down on, and also exploring new areas.
Providing your cows with a new section of pasture or an entirely new pasture to roam around in for a while is a great enrichment activity for them.
Cows are also famous, or should I say notorious, for leaning, rubbing and scratching on things. It might be a sturdy tree, a tilted fence post or something purpose-designed like a cow brush.
Cows love to lean their weight into these things and rock back and forth to scratch and rub. Maybe they have an itch, maybe not, but all I can tell you is that they love to do it and you better hope whatever they are leaning on can hold up!
Lastly, cows sometimes like to play with toys or just frolic, although they tend to be a little more careful with their movements when they mature compared to when they are calves.
There are plenty of videos on the internet showing cows batting balls around, flipping buckets and engaging in all sorts of hilarious activities.
As long as it isn’t something that can hurt them, or something they might swallow by accident, there’s little risk of harm in letting your cows interact with something that seems to interest them.
Do Cows Have Feelings, are They Affectionate?
Yes, they do, and yes they are. Cows have complex emotions, good and bad. Cows are always happier when times are good and when their friends around, and they show affection by licking, bunting, and rubbing along their friends- cow or people!
Cows become unhappy when things are stressful and when their friends are missing or hurt; your cows’ moods will even be affected if they can’t see their best and closest friends, although this is offset somewhat they are still with their herd.
Cows will mourn and long for their friends, including their people, if they die or are just gone for too long.
Furthermore, cows that are isolated from friends, either a cow or human, and from other cows generally will get depressed and their health will suffer.
The starts with general anxiety and will lead to serious changes in the cow’s hormones and overall stress levels.
This makes cows more likely to get sick, and in the case of dairy cows a lot less productive.
And if you don’t believe me, just take the time and pay attention to see how a cow in quarantine reacts after being reunited with the herd, or how your cow lights up when it sees you after an absence.
Are Cows Happy When They Moo?
Typically no. Cows that are happy and content are typically quiet, though their body language can give away their feelings. Cows that are happy usually seem more upright and alert, peppy, if you will.
Conversely, mooing is an indicator that a cow is unhappy or distressed. Maybe they are just uncomfortable, but they could be in pain or stuck, so prolonged mooing is always a call for investigation on your part.
Can Cows Be Friends with Humans?
Yes, absolutely. It is entirely possible that your cows will get attached to you, and not just because you are taking care of them.
Taking care of them and being nice to them makes it a lot more likely that they will be friends with you, but it isn’t required.
If you treat your cows properly and are friendly with them they will soon associate you with calm and happiness, making them happy in return.
Tons of cow owners report having that one special cow that seems to love them above all others, and will do anything to get close to them.
This is definitely a sweet thought, but do be careful if you have a cow like this because they don’t have a great idea of their own size and strength.
It might just want to get close to you and rub all over you, but it will wind up bulldozing you out of the way!
Do Cows Remember You?
Yes, they do! Cows have a good memory, and can remember by sight (and other sense identifiers) dozens of friends, cow or human. This means your cows will absolutely remember you.
How Can You Make a Cow Friendly to You?
Making a cow friendly towards you isn’t difficult assuming the cow has the disposition to be friendly in the first place.
Stay calm around them, talk sweetly to them, feed them, groom them, bring them treats, give them toys, and generally be a pleasant influence in their life.
If you can avoid disbudding or dehorning, that will help since these operations are traumatic for cows and they will remember who was responsible.
Also, no matter how good you are to your cows, keep in mind that sometimes they just won’t be friendly.
A hormonal cow that has just given birth to a calf can be protective to the point of insanity. Similarly, a sexually mature bull will probably not be nice with you, although it’s not out of the question.
Always protect yourself when interacting with your cows, but you generally don’t have to worry about them if they are friendly toward you.
Tom has lived and worked on farms and homesteads from the Carolinas to Kentucky and beyond. He is passionate about helping people prepare for tough times by embracing lifestyles of self-sufficiency.