If you’ve ever noticed a herd of cows standing around in a field, or if you own cows yourself, you’ve probably seen something peculiar about them… Something you might even call a little bit creepy!
Sometimes cows will stand there, perfectly still, with their eyes closed and heads sagging. They might even do it all as a group!
It’s a little bit unsettling, but some folks assert that it is simply cows sleeping; they say they sleep standing up! Sounds pretty unusual, so what’s the truth? Do cows really sleep this way?
No, cows don’t truly sleep standing up. They lay down to sleep for short periods of time, rarely more than a few hours at once. Cows might doze lightly while standing up, however.
In a manner of speaking, there is a grain of truth to this claim: Cows can nap while standing up, and they typically do so with their eyes closed, but they don’t enter what can truly be called sleep unless they lay down.
The sleeping habits of cows are actually pretty fascinating, and if you own cows, or are planning on getting some this is need-to-know information. Keep reading and I’ll tell you all about it
Do Cows Lay Down to Sleep?
Yes. If a cow is going to sleep, it is going to lie down to do it.
How Long Will a Cow Usually Sleep?
This might shock you considering how big they are, but cows don’t get very much sleep at all. Typically, a cow will only sleep 2 or 3 hours a day, with 4 hours of sleep being the absolute max in most cases.
Even if it doesn’t seem like they are doing much, lengthy periods of sleep, or something that they just don’t do. If one of your cows seems to be lying down or sleeping for any longer than that, it might be indicative of a health problem or some other issue.
Cows Can Doze or Enter Deep Sleep
Probably the most important distinction that you need to take away from this information is that cows can enter true sleep when laying down, or they can sort of actively rest or doze, something akin to a “cat nap” or drowsiness for us humans.
In the former, they’ll lie down, lower their heads, close their eyes and get genuine sleep. Like all mammals, this is necessary for the overall health and well-being of the animal.
Even though they sleep a whole lot less than you might think, they must be able to get a little bit of sleep every day or else their health and their mood will definitely start to suffer.
The other way a cow can get rest is by napping or dozing off. This is often done while they are standing up, though occasionally, you might see them lie down for a short rest.
A cow will close its eyes and sometimes even go on chewing or swishing its tail. In a way, they are zoning out, but this type of rest is still good for them and important.
Do Cows Sleep with Their Eyes Open?
No. Contrary to popular assertion from some folks, cows don’t sleep with their eyes open. They might be actively resting while keeping their eyes open and blinking, often done while they’re just standing around chewing cud, but whenever they are truly asleep their eyes will be closed.
How Much Sleep Do Cows Need Daily?
It depends on the cow and other factors, but most will need a minimum of 1 hour (up to a maximum of 4 hours, remember) of sleep daily. I am referring to actual, non-rapid eye movement or NREM sleep where they lay down and close their eyes.
Concerning their short naps, these sessions will typically last anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes, but perhaps a little longer, and cows will take several throughout the day.
Cows Don’t Get Much Sleep Because they are Prey Animals
Like I said above, it is a little bit strange to consider just how little sleep cows get. I don’t know about you, but if I don’t get at least 7 hours a night I’m a wreck the next day.
How is it that an animal as big as a cow can get by on so little sleep and a few cat naps in between?
Simply put, it is just the way they are wired. Specifically, it is because they are prey animals.
Yes, as massive as they are, cows have historically been targeted by all sorts of carnivorous predators, from wolves and coyotes to felines, bears and a whole lot more.
Naturally, if you were a prey animal it would be in your very best interest to be alert and ready to run at all times. Nighttime and especially times of obliviousness during sleep are ideal opportunities for predators to strike, despite the fact that cows see pretty well in the dark.
Accordingly, cows tend to get very little sleep in order to minimize this downtime and vulnerability. Their only chance of surviving a predator attack is to be alert, see it coming early, and either run away or band together as a herd.
But if you think this through, that makes little sense for domestic cows considering how safe they are and how good they have it compared to their wild brethren.
This is true, but remember these instincts are deeply seated in all bovines and in cows particularly. It just isn’t something they realize or can switch off. I’ll put it to you this way, they don’t exactly yearn to “sleep in” the way we do!
Cows are Still Pretty Alert Even When Sleeping!
Understandably, considering everything I talked about in the previous section, a cow stays on high alert at pretty much all times. Yes, even while they are dozing or sleeping!
Don’t believe me? Try for yourself. If you notice your cows dozing off or even better are lying down and fully asleep, try to approach them as quietly as you can.
I’ll bet you any amount of money you won’t get too close before you notice their head come up and their eyes pop open.
This is because cows remain very alert to disturbance and activity nearby even while they are fully asleep. Their hearing, especially, seems almost totally undiminished while they are resting- tuned to the slightest rustle, snap or crack!
Again, this is because they’re wary of predators even in a domestic setting…
Make Sure Your Cows Have Rooms and Opportunity to Get Good Sleep
It is worth mentioning, after going through all this, that if you own cows, you need to make sure they have both the place and the opportunity to get good, recuperative sleep and not just cat naps.
If you put your cows up in a barn or other enclosure, you should keep in mind that they’ll need more room per head in order to lay down get comfortable, and sleep. The quality of the ground and also the bedding they get to rest on, if any, is likewise critical for recuperative sleep.
Make sure you take that into account if you are keeping them in a paddock or have them out in a pasture that is mostly rough, broken or otherwise uncomfortable terrain.
If they are in an area or building where it’s not possible for them to get good sleep, it’s okay to keep them there for a good long while because cows need such little sleep every day.
Just make sure that at least once every 24 hours they are moved to a place where they can lie down and get the sleep that they need…
Something else to consider is that you should minimize disturbances that might disrupt their sleep.
This is a tough thing to plan your day around because your cows won’t necessarily sleep at night: you’re just as likely to see them snoozing away during the relative safety of the day, and then being up and alert at night when they are, instinctively, extremely cautious predators.
On the other hand, your cows might be just fine sleeping at night, and in this case, you should put the lights out and do what else you can to help them rest.
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.