So, Can Cows Actually Swim?

It is hard to imagine some animals ever leaving their landbound existence and taking to the water. Owing to their immense size or other limitations, it seems like a death sentence.

cows in a lake

But then when you consider hippos actually exist and thrive in the water it makes you wonder what other massive mammals can swim. How about cows, for instance. Can cows swim?

Yes, cows can swim and are surprisingly good at it. Though they will only take to the water when forced to by circumstances, they nonetheless do pretty well so long as there is not a strong current.

You might be as surprised as I was to learn that not only can cows swim but they happen to be pretty good at it!

But when you really consider it, it turns out that most mammals can swim and know how to do so instinctively. Cows are no different.

But keep reading and we will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about the swimming abilities of cows.

Do Cows Really Swim?

Yes, they do. Cows are capable of swimming, though they usually only do so when forced to.

Lough Erne cattle swim for their supper - How National Trust cows help nature in Northern Ireland

Are Cows Good Swimmers?

Yes! In fact, cows are surprisingly good swimmers. In fact, cows are known to be able to swim a couple of miles at a stretch in calm conditions without drowning.

This is due to their great strength need only to be used for propulsion in the water since the water itself helps to hold up the immense weight of their bodies.

So long as a cow does not run into real trouble in the form of a strong current or some other obstacle in the water they will generally be able to get where they want to go.

Do Cows Have to Learn to Swim?

No, they don’t. Cows, like nearly all mammals, are born with the ability to swim.

But though they are born with the ability to swim, it does not mean that they will enjoy it or want to do it very often. In fact, most cows will be entirely happy to avoid deep water at all times.

Despite knowing how to swim from birth cows that gain experience in the water, particularly deep water, are more comfortable and confident swimmers than those who are encountering the water for the first time.

How Do Cows Swim?

Cows, like most quadrupeds, swim with the familiar bicycling motion of the legs, akin to a doggy paddle stroke.

When able, they will push off the ground to propel themselves a little further along. It doesn’t look good, or particularly efficient, but cows move pretty quickly in the water and can generally handle themselves when swimming this way.

Why Would Cows Get in the Water at All?

Cows, as a rule, want to avoid deep water, and definitely want to avoid swimming unless they have no choice or a strong motivation to do so. The usual reasons for cows getting in the water are either to cross a river or stream.

This could be for something simple, like following the rest of the herd for whatever reason, or something more urgent, such as escaping from predators.

Cows will also cross water to get at food when required (or hungry enough) and will also attempt water crossings to find a mate when in season.

How Far Can a Cow Swim?

One of the most remarkable things about cows swimming is their sheer endurance. A cow can swim for upwards of two miles without tiring, perhaps even further if necessary.

This is a considerable distance for an animal of their size and weight to be able to cover, particularly given that they are not known for being particularly nimble on land.

There have been many documented instances of cows covering impressive distances in the water as a result of floods or other conditions that forced them into the water.

In one such case, a cow swam for six miles after being swept away in flood waters after a river broke its banks.

Do Cows Like Being in the Water?

Not really. Though it isn’t out of the question to find a cow that seems to enjoy itself in the water, most will do whatever they can to avoid entering deep or unknown water sources.

A cow might enjoy taking a dip in a shallow pond or other body of water in very hot conditions, but this is more to do with the cooling effects of the water rather than any love for swimming.

In any case, a cow will only be comfortable in the water if it can keep its hooves on the bottom.

Whenever possible in the wild cows will prefer to ford a stream or river at a shallow crossing rather than chance a deep water swim.

Again, cows avoid swimming if they can, and will only do so if they have no other choice. Just because they are capable swimmers does not mean they enjoy it!

Are Certain Breeds of Cows Good Swimmers?

In general, most cow breeds are equally adept at swimming, with none having a clear advantage over the other.

Are Any Breeds of Cow Bad Swimmers?

Likewise, no cow breed is unduly disadvantaged over another when it comes time to go for a dip.

However, breeds with intact horns, and particularly long horns, do suffer somewhat when swimming since there is always a risk of their horns getting snagged or tangled on debris as they attempt to cross.

What are the Dangers of Cows Swimming?

The main dangers for cows when swimming are fast-moving currents, cold water (which can lead to hypothermia), and being caught in underwater debris.

Of course, there is also the danger of predators, both in the water and waiting for the cows on the other side in some circumstances, though this is incidental to the area the cows are in and not a hazard of the water itself, most times.

While cows are good swimmers, they can still find themselves in trouble if they are not careful.

One of the biggest dangers, particularly when crossing a river, is a current. Cows are large and broad, and easily moved about by a current. Though they are powerful they are not really that hydrodynamic and will easily be dragged downstream.

If a cow finds itself caught in a current or otherwise unable to make headway it can quickly become exhausted fighting it and drown.

This is particularly true of young calves who have not yet developed the muscle mass and strength needed to fight against a strong current.

As always, unseen hazards and obstacles in the water can cause issues for any animal, even one as strong as a cow.

A tangled hoof or snagged horn can hold a cow immobile until it tires and drowns, or even drag it under in the case or moving debris (likely after intense flooding.)

In any case, cows that find themselves in deep water will instinctively try to reach shallow water as quickly as possible.

As a result, most cows that drown do so because they are caught in a strong current and are unable to reach solid ground before they become exhausted and sink.

Can Cows Swim in Cold Water or Weather?

Another danger to cows when swimming in cold water. Cows are not particularly well insulated and can easily succumb to hypothermia if they spend too much time in cold water.

This goes double if the cows emerge from cold water and into cold air. Sadly, this is yet another hazard that young calves are particularly susceptible to since they have less body fat than older cows and are more delicate in general.

Generally speaking, a cow can spend about 15 minutes in water that is 50 degrees Fahrenheit before it starts to experience negative effects and even less time in colder water.

Can You Put Your Cow in a Pool?

You technically could, but this is a bad, bad idea, no matter what kind of pool you have.

For starters, getting the cow into an above-ground pool will likely destroy it. Getting a cow into an in-ground pool will be a far sight easier, but getting it out could prove to be impossible without a crane unless the pool is ramped up to level ground.

In short, unless your pool is somehow designed in such a way that your cow can enter it and leave entirely under its own power, don’t do it.

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