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We know that horses are sociable animals, but do they only socialize with other horses? Or can they have other companions? If you run a farm or a homestead and keep various livestock, you may wonder – is a cow a good companion for a horse?
The answer is yes, very much so! Cows are friendly and docile and share many characteristics with horses. This partnership can work well as long as you do it right. The bottom line is that horses need companionship. Ideally, horses are able to commune with other horses. However, if that’s not possible, there are other viable options, and cows are a good one.
Here we take a look at some of the do’s and don’ts of allowing horses to socialize with cows.
Why Horses Need Companionship
We know that horses instinctively live in herds, but why is this? Plenty of animals are loners and get on just fine. Horses, however, benefit significantly from co-existing with each other. Horses are prey animals, meaning there’s safety in numbers out in the wild. Especially when there are babies present, horses need each other to survive.
The benefits aren’t limited to wild horses, though. Even in captivity, horses gravitate toward each other for many reasons:
- Even living in barns and enclosed fields, horses are still wired to expect danger. By staying in groups, they’ll feel safer and therefore happier and more comfortable.
- Horses are playful and enjoy running around together. This also helps them get exercise and movement throughout the day.
- Mutual grooming is common among equine friends. This behavior not only solidifies bonds between them but they can reach areas of each other that they can’t reach themselves. This satisfies uncomfortable itches and keeps them relaxed.
- They are simply wired to be social. They enjoy each other’s company and lots of time with friends keeps them mentally and emotionally healthy.
If left alone and not given the chance to socialize for an extended period of time, most horses will slowly start deteriorating:
- They will become stressed. You’ll notice behaviors such as pacing, more vocalizing, running up and down the fence line, etc start to pick up.
- If they become too stressed they may also lose weight.
- They may start to become aggressive in their unhappiness. This makes them more dangerous and difficult to both handle and ride.
- They may become depressed. This can also result in a loss of appetite, leading to weight loss and other complications. They may also become unwilling to work or engage with you.
Why is a Cow a Good Companion for a Horse?
Horses and cows are both grazers who enjoy grass, so right away they’re a great match. There are many other fantastic reasons for pairing your horses with cows, such as:
- Cows are calm and nurturing, making them great company, especially for nervous and flighty horses. They can also help horses stay calm during events like a thunderstorm.
- Cows and horses attract/carry different parasites. This can actually be good for their health as they can disrupt the lifecycle of each other’s parasites.
- Horses are picky eaters. Sometimes, they leave big patches of grass alone while over-eating others. Cows are much more careless and can help keep your field balanced this way.
- If you can’t have more than one horse, your cows can ensure your lone horse doesn’t get lonely and depressed.
- While any cow can potentially get along with your horse, Dexters are the most common and most successful. Their small size makes them welcoming and non-threatening to horses.
- Cows and horses can also share a barn. For harsher climates and/or nasty storms, you may bring your animals inside overnight. Even inside, both horses and cows are happier with friends around them. Though they can’t run and play, being able to see and hear each other inside is great for their mental health.
Is a Cow Always a Good Companion for a Horse?
While cows are generally a great choice for your horses to bond with, there are a few exceptions. It doesn’t always work out and there are certain situations you may want to avoid:
- Stallions and bulls are less likely to get along.
- More dominant horses may chase and bully the cows which is stressful.
- Some horses may be quite afraid of the cows, making bonding more difficult.
- Some breeds of horses, such as the quarter horse, will instinctively try to herd the cows. This is unwanted by the cows and can be very stressful and unpleasant.
Things to Consider When Pairing Cows With Horses
Lastly, there are some things you should consider when deciding to pair your horses and your cows together. It can work extremely well, but you must also ensure it’s a safe and healthy environment:
- Cows are a lot easier to contain than horses. You may need to upgrade and reinforce your fencing.
- Cows are also a lot physically tougher than horses. Barbed wire and high-voltage electric fencing are appropriate for cows, but not safe for horses.
- While they both enjoy grass and hay, their nutrition and grain requirements are different. Make sure you understand their differing diets and feed them accordingly.
- Always introduce them slowly and carefully. The horses will most likely be fearful and/or wary.
If you’re at all concerned or unsure about putting your cows and horses together, it’s always a good idea to speak with your veterinarian. They’re familiar with your animals as well as your property and even your area. They can offer good advice and guidance.
Horses are complex animals and owning them is a true adventure. Many people love keeping their horses on their own property, but it’s not as simple as throwing them in a field. Horses crave and thrive on companionship and they need regular socialization. Cows are a great option if you don’t have other horses. They’re similar to horses and very calm in nature. When managed well, cows and horses can build close and loving bonds. A definitely cow can be a good companion for a horse and vice versa.