Cows have given us humans the ability to sustain ourselves for as long as history has been written.
They’re able to produce milk and then be processed into tender meat and sturdy material.
Cows have been a crucial part of feeding communities all over the world, and raising them has become a science, attempting to breed a cow with the finest beef and leather.
An important part of raising cows is ensuring that they are getting the exercise they need to build up their muscles properly, but is swimming an exercise option for cows?
Can Cows Swim?
Yes, cows are excellent swimmers.
While cows may be bulky and heavy, their strong leg muscles keep them afloat.
All cows are able to swim, even when they’re young.
Cows commonly are corralled by cowboys through slow-moving rivers, and they compete in cattle races in India that take them through the water as well.
However, cows are not able to swim long distances.
When leading cows into the water, you need to ensure that there are multiple easy entrances and exits.
Otherwise, the cows could drown once they get exhausted, especially if they’re young.
Some adult cows have managed to travel great distances in emergency situations.
Like humans, cows like to use swimming as a way to cool off in the hot summer sun.
Thanks to all of their fatty tissues, cows are able to float on the water for a limited amount of time.
Floating in still or gentle waters also keeps cows from being bitten by insects.
Cows are built for swimming, especially with their strong legs and a head position that allows them to easily keep their head above the water.
The way cows swim is similar to how they run, except modified for the density of the water and the way that gravity affects their bodies in the water.
By having their bodies be parallel to the water surface, the amount of drag is decreased.
Cows that frequently spend their time in the water can swim several miles.
The two main attributes that contribute to a cow’s endurance are the health of the cow and the experience that they have in the water.
There are things that you can do in order to help your cows become better swimmers, which is also an excellent way to improve their health.
How Farmers Help Cows Swim Safely
Farmers have learned to do some small things to keep their herds of cattle safe.
From changing the order in which cows go in the water to going in the direction that works best for the cows, there are some slight alterations that farmers can make to make it easier for their cows to swim.
Some cows may be hesitant to go into the water, but if you can get the leader of the herd to go into the water first, the rest will follow.
Cows are herding animals, which means that, as a group, the cows protect each other while the herd leader makes the decisions.
Herd leaders tend to be the calmest and strongest members of the herd, often being observed keeping a watchful eye over the rest of their herd.
They tirelessly watch out for danger, which earns them the right within the herd to always go first.
While on the move, the herd leader will act as the way finder for all of the other cows.
The rest of the herd will go wherever the herd leader goes, even if it means going into unfamiliar waters.
If a farmer or cowboy is able to get the herd leader to go into the water first, the rest of the cows will follow confidently.
In some cases, cowboys will separate the group and direct the small, scattered group into the water.
The other parts of the herd will see the herded cows on the other side of the body of water and will cross the water in order to regroup.
In order to make it easier for the cows to swim across the water, cowboys will take the leader and direct them slightly downstream.
This helps preserve the cows’ stamina and energy.
How Far Can Cows Swim?
In calm waters, cows are able to swim hundreds of yards with ease.
As long as a cow is in good health and isn’t elderly, they are capable of swimming incredible distances, especially in emergency situations.
Cows have managed to survive hurricanes and swim back to safe shores, only to be found munching on grass as if nothing had happened.
There were livestock being raised on Cedar Island when Hurricane Dorian hit in 2019.
Hurricane Dorian caused a miniature tsunami, which resulted in 28 wild horses and about 17 cows going missing from the island and being presumed dead.
A month after the hurricane, a member of the Cape Lookout National Shore staff noticed a cow on one of the barrier islands around Cedar Island, which was extremely unusual for the small island.
No one knows exactly how far the storm originally moved the cows, but the cows would have had to swim four miles in order to reach the bank they were found on.
At the National Trust Wildlife haven in Northern Ireland, cattle are moved across Lough Erne, a 328-foot body of water.
In order to help reduce the risk of cows drowning, the Trust makes sure that they break the cows into groups where there are plenty of cows that have experienced the journey.
They move the herd in order to give the other 750 acres of land some time to heal and grow back.
This allows the wildlife haven to remain sustainable and keeps their cows’ pastures teeming with healthy grass for the cows.
Calves are able to swim from a young age, but they don’t have the same strength or stamina to withstand keeping themselves afloat through powerful or deep water.
Most calves learn to swim in shallow ponds or lakes.
India’s Cattle Racing
There is a festival that is held in the small town of Anandapalli after the harvest in Kerala, India.
During the festival, the locals will hold a bull race called Maramadi.
About 300 pairs of bulls and riders participate in the race each year.
On the track, the cows are most commonly swimming.
The race isn’t held until after a monsoon hits, which happens seasonally in the village.
The cows pull themselves and their riders through a variety of terrains, often starting in a soaked rice paddy field with ankle-deep water.
However, the waters can get deeper as the race goes on.
There can be parts of the track that require the cattle to swim while being attached to each other and their riders.
Maramadi is an incredibly long race that may start in the early afternoon, but it takes until after dusk to complete.
Maramadi comes with a lot of risk for both the cattle and the rider.
During the early part of the race, it is normal to see riders accidentally crashing into each other, falling off, or even getting trampled.
Animal rights groups have never been fond of the tradition.
There’s a potential for the cattle to be injured while racing at such high speeds in unsuitable conditions.
The uneven turf and the weight of their riders create a high possibility for the cattle breaking their ankles.
In 1960, the sport was banned by the Prevention of Animal Cruelty Act.
The act banned the racing of multiple different types of livestock, including cows.
The case was brought up again in 2014, but the right to legalize cattle racing was turned down.
The Cattle Race Club of India brought their case to the Kerala High Courts in 2015 and were able to get the court to agree to appeal their previous decision.
Is Swimming Good For Cows?
Cows can greatly benefit by adding swimming to their normal routine, especially if they’re being raised for their meat.
Swimming is an excellent way for cows to build up plenty of muscles all over their body, which makes for richer meat.
There are also amazing health benefits for animals who swim frequently.
Swimming is an excellent way to alleviate pain and stress.
The water is able to lower the pressure that gravity has on their bodies, which can also reduce the pain they may feel.
Swimming is a gentle physical activity that allows cows to exercise for extended periods of time, making it excellent at getting out any additional energy and helping to relax the animals.
It also helps build up muscles all over their bodies.
Farmers with cows that may be recovering from surgery find that swimming is very beneficial for their preparation before surgery and their recovery after surgery.
The constant gentle blood flow also makes swimming incredibly beneficial for livestock with cardiovascular problems.
Cows that are able to swim often are less likely to have problems maintaining a healthy weight.
Their beef will end up being less fatty than that of cows that aren’t getting the same level of exercise.
Swimming only becomes a problem for cows if they run out of stamina or don’t have an easy exit or entrance.
Without having the energy to push the water beneath them, cows will sink.
They can’t rely on their buoyancy alone to keep themselves afloat.
Another problem that can make swimming unsafe for cows if the water quality is poor.
Bodies of water that have blue-green algae growing in them may cause cows to become incredibly ill.
Ponds, lakes, or rivers with eroding shorelines may not be the best choice for cows either.
Can Cows Swim In Chlorine?
No, cows should not swim in water with chlorine.
While animals like dogs can withstand a little time in the pools, chlorine isn’t good for any animal.
Chlorine is used to kill microorganisms in the water in order to prevent the spread of waterborne illnesses.
However, chlorine doesn’t choose to only kill the bad microorganisms, it can kill all the microorganisms in your cow’s digestive system.
Cows have unique digestive systems called the rumen system, which they also share with sheep and goats.
Their digestive systems rely on the microorganisms that live in their multiple stomachs to break down food.
The rumen microbes ferment the food in the stomachs of a cow and break the food down.
That’s how volatile fatty acids, vitamin K, and many of the B vitamins are produced.
Volatile fatty acids serve as the main energy source for cows.
When the microorganisms are hit by the chloride, many of them die off.
This leaves the cow with fewer microorganisms to produce the volatile fatty acids needed to keep the cow properly energized.
They may appear sluggish for the next few days after swimming.
Throwing a ruminant animal’s digestive system off can have multiple negative effects on its overall health.
In a study published by the Journal of Dairy Science, researchers discovered that cows that come into contact and consume more chlorine have less protein in their milk.
Additional studies have been done to look into chlorine’s effect on the immune system of animals.
In one study, chlorine was shown to reduce the spleen weight of rats and disrupt their immune systems’ ability to communicate.
Unlike fresh water, chlorinated water is known to dehydrate the animals that drink it.
This effect can be especially deadly if the temperature is high, and the sun is beating directly on the cows.
Cows Love The Water
While you may think that cows would steer away from the water due to their large size, it’s their buoyant bodies that keep them afloat.
Cows are excellent swimmers and are able to reap many of the same benefits from swimming as humans and other animals do.
Swimming is a regular part of many cows’ lives and it’s what helps them lead healthier lives.
While there are chemicals and naturally occurring problems in some water, fresh water can serve as the perfect way to help your cow cool off.