When you look at some creatures, you know pretty much everything you need to know about where and how they live.
You’d never think a fish could properly exist on land. An elephant won’t ever be found in the treetops. And you will never see a cow swimming around in the water. Or will you?…
Many animals are capable of surprising feats, and in the case of mammals it turns out that most terrestrial species can indeed swim, especially when pressed.
But cows are so massive, so heavy and ponderous, it seems all but certain that they will sink like a stone. What’s the real answer? Can cows swim if they have to?
Yes, cows can swim, and are actually adept swimmers. Most cows will only swim when forced to, but in the water their buoyancy and strength allows them to swim long distances with relative ease. They will struggle in a current, though.
Today was the day that you found out cows are, in fact, great swimmers! That being said, I wouldn’t plan on putting your cow in the pool or taking it down to the lake just yet.
Keep reading and I’ll explain why.
Can Cows Really Swim Well?
Absolutely! Cows can swim unbelievably well, with the capacity to traverse miles at a time in still waters without drowning.
Their innate power is only used for moving forward which helps them maintain balance and buoyancy as their bulky body sizes weigh them down naturally. It’s truly amazing how cows are able to accomplish this feat!
Cows are talented swimmers, but unless they encounter an obstacle like a swift current, they can typically reach their destination without incident.
So Cows Enjoy Swimming?
Although there is a slim chance you might find one cow that actually enjoys swimming, most prefer to stay on land.
This isn’t surprising since they are more comfortable in shallow waters with their hooves firmly planted on the ground.
Even if they do enter the water due to exceedingly hot weather conditions, it’s purely for its cooling effects rather than out of pleasure.
Whenever possible, cows in the wild will opt to cross a stream or river at shallow points rather than take on risky and tiresome swims.
While they have the capability to do so if needed, swimming is not something bovines particularly enjoy – only done when absolutely necessary!
Then How Does a Cow Learn to Swim in the First Place?
Believe it or not, cows have a natural swim instinct. Yet, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll enjoy swimming – many of them would prefer to stay out of deep water altogether.
Similarly to humans, the more experience cattle gain in the water especially in deep waters, the better swimmers they will become compared to those who are just starting out.
What Will Force a Cow to Get in the Water?
As a general rule, cows will strive to stay away from water and steer clear of swimming unless there is an intense motivation or necessity.
Generally, the only time they enter deep waters is when attempting to cross rivers or streams. Cows will cross water to access food if they must and, during mating season, to search for a potential partner across the water.
Cows will also take to the water when their herd has chosen that route or out of desperation in order to escape predators or other danger.
How Do Cows Swim?
Cows, much like other four-legged animals, swim with a four-legs paddling motion that looks very much like a dog or cat in the water- just much bigger!
If possible, they will push off from the river bed for some extra momentum in order to move along a little bit faster.
They aren’t graceful, that’s for sure, but cows are dependably strong swimmers in calm water and can generally make good time.
How Long Can a Cow Stay Afloat?
Most remarkable of all concerning the swimming ability of cows is their sheer endurance.
Incredible cases of cows swimming long distances have been documented, such as an instance where a cow swam for six miles after it was carried away by the raging river that had overflowed its banks during flood conditions.
This more than anything proves how capable a cow can be in the water, and is frankly an incredible feat when you consider their size.
When a cow is in the water, it isn’t over unless they are completely exhausted or get trapped or snagged by something. See the next section.
Which Cows Can Swim the Best?
Although all cows possess the capability to swim and most breeds swim equally well, more or less, breeds with long horns have more risk in the water.
Longer horns increase the likelihood of snagging or getting caught up while crossing a body of water, and so increase the chance of drowning.
But, those characteristics aside, pretty much every breed will be capable, if not comfortable, in the water.
Is it Safe for My Cows to Get in the Water?
For some of you, the notion of leading your cow to water and encouraging it to take a dip might be very strong by now.
Just tap the brakes, and you generally don’t want a cow to get in the water (deep water, anyway) unless it has to.
Swimming is always a risky venture for a mammal, cows included: even in the best, controlled conditions the risk persists.
Major risks for swimming cows include currents, cold air or water temperatures and getting trapped on underwater debris and obstacles.
Some regions also pose the peril of predators lurking in or around the water. You definitely don’t want your cows swimming where gators are present!
Of all the threats, the most perilous is definitely a current; moving water. Although cows usually swim well, they are always vulnerable to a current, even a relatively slow one.
Why? Cows are big, wide-bodied creatures and that unfortunately means that the force of water will really act against them.
Young calves are especially vulnerable in a current due to their lack of strength necessary compared to adults. Though cows are powerful swimmers with high stamina they will easily be dragged downstream if caught in a current.
When currents become overwhelming, even the most resilient cow will tire from fighting it and eventually succumb, drowning.
Submerged or Floating Obstacles Can Drown Cows
Obstacles in and under the water are as always a major hazard for swimmers, cows included. For a cow, even snagging one hoof or horn is enough to trap them until exhaustion forces them beneath the surface.
Waterborne debris is a major, major risk during floods, and will only exacerbate this danger.
So, knowing what they are up against, think twice before you let your cows swim or enter any body of water they cannot safely stand in.
Safety for your livestock should always be your priority with any kind of animal activity, in the water or out.
Is it Safe for Cows to Swim in Cold Conditions?
No. Cold water can be deadly to cows, as they are not naturally well insulated and may easily suffer hypothermia after being submerged in cold water for too long.
This is an even greater danger to young calves of the herd since immature cows have even less body fat than adults, which makes them much even more vulnerable. Cold air temps will further strip heat from cows that exit the water.
Generally, a cow can only endure in cold water (appx. 60 degrees F or less) for 20 minutes before it starts being adversely impacted, and the colder it is the quicker things will go bad.
Do everything you can to ensure that all cattle stay out of the water during cold weather, and try to anticipate issues that would drive or force them into a body of water when they are free ranging.
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.