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Cow vs. Horse

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Cows and horses can both be found on many farms and ranches across the country. Their owners are either avid horse lovers, dire cattle enthusiasts or a combination of both. One thing you may hear passionately discussed around the campfire is the never-ending cow versus horse debate.

Pitting cows against horses can create passionate arguments and many ranch owners opt to just agree to disagree. Cows and horses have several similarities and differences that make them each appealing to certain people and unappealing to others.

A brown horse and black cow in a green pasture

Comparing cows and horses may not sway your mind at all about which one ranks higher in your view. It might, however, bring to light several things you may not realize when you compare the two animals. There is a lot more to both animals than just what the we see shared on social media or in the news.  

Which One Eats More?

Both cows and horses eat a lot of food each day, however, in this category, average-sized horses eat a little more than average-sized cows.

Horses will typically eat somewhere between 1.5 and 2.5 of their body weight each day. A healthy horse that weighs 1200 pounds will eat up to 30 pounds of average quality forage daily.

Cows will eat about 2.05% of their body weight each day. (source) You can expect a 1200-pound cow to eat approximately 24.6 pounds of average quality forage each day.

Two young horses eating hays in a farm

This means that a horse will eat slightly more than a cow on average, but the exact totals can vary between animals.

How Are Cows and Horses Alike

Despite being two completely different animals, cows and horses have several similarities that are undeniable.

1. They Both Eat Grass and Hay

Horses and cows like to eat grass as well as hay. In fact, they both need to eat forage, plant material, to keep their digestive systems working correctly. Forage is the main source of fiber in their daily diets.

2. They Both Have Hooves

Cows and horses both have hooved feet. This means that they have a hoof on the end of each of their feet. A hoof is a keratin covering that helps protect their feet as they walk. Horses have single-toed hooves while cows have two-toed hooves. (source)

3. They Are Both Herd Animals

Horses as well as cows are considered herd animals which means they prefer to live in a herd of animals of the same species instead of alone.

If their only option is to live with livestock that are not the same species, that is still preferable over being alone. Animals in a herd create natural social hierarchies and protect each other from predators.(source)

4. They Are Both Grazers

cows and horses grazing in the same field

Both cows and horses are grazers, meaning they prefer to graze on grass if possible. They will graze in large groups, moving across large areas in search of grass.

Grazing throughout the day keeps them active and alert to watch out for predators.

5. They Are Both Considered Livestock

In the United States, horses and cattle are considered livestock, which means they are domesticated animals owned for a purpose.

Cattle are most often raised and bred for money, meat and milk. Horses are kept for riding, breeding popular bloodlines, and for farm work. (source)

How Are Cows and Horses Different?

a horse eating grass and a cow resting on the same field

Although they are similar in some ways, cows and horses have several differences. These differences do not make them better or worse than one another.

1. Their Teeth Are Different

Horses have front teeth on both their upper and lower mouth. Cows only have front teeth on the bottom of their mouths. This means that horses have more teeth than most cows.

2. They Eat Grass Different

Horses and cows may both eat grass, but they eat it in different ways. Horses rip grass from the ground by grabbing it close to the roots. Cows, since they are missing their top front teeth, grab the grass with their tongue and bite it closer to the top.

3. They Have Different Digestive Systems

Cows and horses have completely different digestive systems. Cows are ruminants and have a rumen that ferments their food first.

cows standing in a stall eating hay

Horses have hindgut digestion where fermentation occurs in the cecum as well as their large ingestion. (source)

4. They Require Different Fencing

Cows need much stronger fencing than most horses do. Cattle farmers often need to use barbed wire, cattle fencing, electric fencing or a combination of all four to keep cattle in, especially if they have a bull.

Horses can usually be easily kept in wood fencing or high tensile tape fencing.

5. They Need Different Quality Hay

Cows can safely eat and digest low quality hay. This can be hay that has been rained on, left outside, and may include stalky vegetation.

Horses should only be given high quality hay. Hay that gets wet can get moldy, a recipe that can be dangerous for a horse’s digestion.

Are Horses Considered Cattle?

Horses are not the same thing as cattle. Horses belong to the Equidae family of animals. (source) Cows are a member of a completely different family of animals known as Bovinae. (source)

horses and cows living together in a pasture inside a fence

Can Horses and Cattle Live Together?

Sometimes, yes! Usually, cows and horses can live together, with the occasional rift or episode. Some horses and cows will just never get along.

More often than you would imagine, ranchers find that their horses and cows can live in harmony in the same pasture.

It is important to note that horned cattle can sometimes be dangerous to have around horses, especially if they do not get along.

Can Cows and Horses Mate

No, cows and horses cannot mate with one another. Although they are both mammals, they are from different species and are unable to successfully breed with one another.

pinterest pin - Cow vs. Horse_ What you need to know

While a cow-horse hybrid would be an interesting creature, unfortunately, it will never happen in real life!

Which One is Nicer?

Some cows are nicer than some horses and vice vera. There really is no definite answer to this question. It all depends on the specific animal and much of their friendliness depends on how they were raised

Are horses or cows better?

This is one question with an answer that depends solely on the person answering the question. Cows and horses both have positive aspects that may make them better in different people’s eyes.

The real question is if you can even make that distinction once you have owned both animals! They are both amazing in their own ways.

Final Thought

At first glance, cows and horses are noticeably different from one another but that clearly does not mean that they have nothing in common. No matter what some people say, each of them has something unique to offer. The truth is cows are no better than horses and horses are no better than cows. It is also true that occasionally some horses are better than some cows and vice versa!