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How Cows Get Along With Other Species

A sign on a wooden fence in front of a horned cow that says "Be careful"

Updated September 18, 2020

If you’re caring for cows with limited pasture, you may be wondering how they get along with other species of animals. Because individual animals each have their own unique personalities, preferences, and histories of trauma, this resource may not apply universally to all cows and the other species they interact with, but it should provide a good starting point in regards to how well a cow will get along with other animals. If you’re planning on keeping a cow with anyone new, regardless of species, make sure to carefully monitor their interactions until you are satisfied that there will be no trouble when you go off to attend to other sanctuary needs!

Horn Holdups

If you are caring for cows with horns, be aware that there’s a chance these cows may accidentally injure other sanctuary residents, usually when interacting or playing. Any time you introduce a horned cow with others, closely monitor them until you feel confident that they won’t pose an unintentional threat! Some cows are more inclined to frequent interactions than others, and some cows are more mindful of their horns than others.

Cows And Other Cows

Typically, a cow should have no problem living with other cows (and in fact, this is preferable to a cow living alone), provided that they have enough space, food, water, and mineral access so they don’t feel the need to compete. Cows are inclined to follow a social hierarchy, though typically a less aggressively-enforced hierarchy than as seen in other species. Once they’ve established who’s in charge, they will typically peacefully coexist. If a cow simply cannot get along with others, you may need to give them their own pasture or indoor living space, while trying your best to balance their need for companionship.

Cows And Sheep

Cows can live with sheep on the same pasture, provided that they have ample space to avoid each other if they choose, with one major caveat: Cows can eat minerals formulated for sheep, but sheep can not have access to minerals formulated for cows; minerals for cows have copper supplemented in them, and sheep are highly susceptible to copper toxicity. If you need to keep sheep and cows in a shared space with mineral access for both, you’ll have to carefully supplement the cows’ copper separate from the minerals both species receive.

Cows And Donkeys

With cows and donkeys, how they do together is entirely dependent on the personalities at play. Some donkeys get along quite well with cows. Others, especially those rescued from abusive or neglectful situations, may be more territorial and defensive around all species, including cows. Always closely monitor the pasture and make a careful introduction between donkeys and cows, keeping in mind the possibility that they may need to live separately. Be aware that certain additives in food and minerals formulated for cows are toxic to equines.

Cows And Other Farmed Sanctuary Mammals

Cows and other sanctuary mammals such as goats, pigs, llamas, alpacas, and horses can live harmoniously on the same pasture and do not tend to bother one another (though some individual personalities might not mix, just like with anyone). Like with sheep, you should try to avoid mixing any kind of mineral access between species, and it is important to employ fencing that is appropriate and safe for all species being kept in the same pasture. If any of your residents have mobility impairments, you should ensure that they are not going to get caught in the path of a less spatially mindful cow! Feeding schedules might be complicated to coordinate with certain residents such as large breed pigs, so even if you’re having everyone in the same pasture, you’ll probably want to keep them in separate living quarters!

Cows And Farmed Sanctuary Birds

Cows should have no trouble sharing an outdoor space with birds such as chickens, turkeys, ducks, and geese provided that all species have their specific needs taken care of (like dust baths accessible for chickens or turkeys or accessible ponds for ducks and geese). The main concerns to consider with cohabitation between cows and sanctuary birds are accidental trampling underfoot (especially if the avian resident has a mobility-affecting disability or if a hen is broody) and the dangers of letting birds graze with mammalian residents who have been treated with chemical dewormers or medication, which can be dangerous for them to be around or accidentally ingest. Like most animals, cows will avoid eating food that has been defecated on by another animal if they can, so if you’re going to keep cows and birds together, try to avoid letting the birds spend time where the cows eat. Additionally, you’ll need to find ways to feed your bird residents without the cows having access to the food, and remember that sanctuary birds will need to be closed into predator-proof spaces overnight, so having separate indoor spaces for cows and bird residents will most likely be necessary.

Cows And Dogs

As a general rule, it’s not a good idea to let dogs interact with any animal at a farmed animal sanctuary. As the species in your care are prey animals, there is a high chance that there will be a negative reaction, either from the dog or the resident, and it is never worth risking an animal’s safety when there is any possibility to avoid conflict.

When it comes to letting dogs spend time around cows specifically, it is entirely dependent on the individual personalities at play. Some dogs and cows have been known to get along very well, without any issues. However, other personalities might not ever be safe around one another, especially dogs who are more prone to chasing or aggression, which could stress out the cow, cause injuries, or worse. If you believe there is a good candidate dog to spend time with your cows, plan for a great deal of supervision, with the knowledge that some dogs may live peacefully with cows one day and decide to chase the cows the next day. Many cows might be too skittish or afraid to ever peacefully be in the same pasture as a dog.

Cows And Cats

Cows should be able to coexist fairly easily with cats; most likely they’ll likely do their own thing apart from one another (assuming the cat has space to avoid being stepped on by the cow), though there are plenty of cows and cats that are quite friendly who frequently interact with one another!

Cows And Wildlife

Given the large pasture spaces cows typically require, they will inevitably share their space with other animals who call the sanctuary grounds home. In most cases, cows and wildlife can safely co-exist, but there are a few things to consider:

Predators Of Cows

Though less vulnerable to predation than many other sanctuary residents, some animals can be especially dangerous to cows and may try to attack them if given the chance or frightened. This includes stray dogs, coyotes, wolves, cougars, bobcats, snakes, and bears. The best defense is to keep regional predators in mind when designing living spaces for cows, as different predator concerns will warrant specific design strategies.

Other Wildlife

While there may be specific considerations based on your area, aside from potential predators, cows can typically share outdoor living spaces with wildlife without issue. Indoor spaces, however, could be a different story. Wild birds and rodents may take up residence inside indoor living spaces, which depending on the species and population size may cause certain issues. Rats can be especially destructive if they have access to electrical wires or any insulation, so it’s important to take measures to deter them as much as possible and to protect areas where they could cause serious issues. For more information on compassionate wildlife strategies, check out our resource here!


Social Behavior Of Cattle | Merck Veterinary Manual

Concerns With Keeping Different Types Of Livestock Together | Knoji (Non-Compassionate Source)

Managing Multi-Species Grazing | On Pasture (Non-Compassionate Source)

Non-Compassionate Source?

If a source includes the (Non-Compassionate Source) tag, it means that we do not endorse that particular source’s views about animals, even if some of their insights are valuable from a care perspective. See a more detailed explanation here.

Updated on September 18, 2020

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