Can a Cow Be Kept Alone, or Do They Need a Companion?

Small farms have increased in popularity in recent years as more people look for ways to produce their own food supply.

Many backyard farmers purchase cattle for milk or meat production without fully understanding the investment in time and care requirements involved with the animal.

A typical small farm will start with two to five cattle, but is it OK to raise just one cow?

Cows are social herd animals, and they will become lonely, depressed, and suffer from health issues if they do not have a suitable companion. As prey animals, cows will also feel more secure in a herd where they can alert each other of danger.

Smaller predatory animals like coyotes may see a single cow as an easy target, but they will think twice before attempting to attack a larger herd.

Read on to learn about how cows react to being alone and some things to do to keep a single cow healthy and happy.

can a cow be kept alone

How Does a Cow React to Being Alone?

Having one cow is an excellent way to get acquainted with animal husbandry for farm animals, but cows are not meant to be solitary animals.

Bottle-fed calves raised with other farm animals may easily adapt to a lifestyle without other cows.

The calf will usually make friends with other farm animals, and while the social interaction with them may not be the same as with other cows, it will still lead a happy life.

However, if your cow came from a larger herd and suddenly finds itself alone, it may have a more difficult time adjusting to life without others of its kind.

Cows in a herd will stay in a group when grazing or resting and groom each other.

If a cow is lonely, there will be visible signs of unhappiness.

The cow will moo loudly, hoping for a response from other cattle.

If the cow hears other cows nearby, it is more likely to attempt to escape from your farm.

A lonely cow is also more prone to health problems and will become lethargic or uninterested in eating.

The single cow will also have a higher risk of being attacked by predators when grazing in a pasture.

Cows raised by themselves may also have cognitive or behavioral issues compared to those raised in a herd.

Studies have shown that individually raised calves have more difficulty learning to use a feeder and often struggle with social interaction when introduced to the rest of the herd.

Related Reading: Why do cows moo more at night?

Is Human Interaction Enough for a Lonely Cow?

Human interaction is not enough to satisfy a lonely cow for several reasons.

It is challenging for a person to spend much time with a cow due to work and other responsibilities.

Cows are rarely away from the herd, and leaving them alone will cause the animal to become stressed.

Even when a cow strays from the rest of the herd in the pasture, it still takes comfort in knowing the other cattle are nearby and reassured of its safety.

Cows are also very affectionate animals and become loyal to those who care for them.

When a cow becomes dependent on a human to socialize with them daily, it is difficult for the animal when the person is not around.

Being alone, even for a short time, will cause the cow to feel unsafe and become very stressed.

The social dynamics of humans and cows are also very different.

Cows use body language and different sounds to communicate with the rest of the herd.

Humans are incapable of verbally communicating with a cow, and our body language is so different the animal will likely be confused.

This does not mean ignoring your cow is OK, as bonding with the animal makes it much easier to care for them.

However, for cows to be truly happy, healthy, and well-adjusted, they need to be socialized with other cows or farm companions. 

What To Do If You Have a Single Cow

If you only have one cow and do not have the space for another, there are a few things to do to ensure your cow is happy and healthy.

Cows are very resilient animals, and they can adapt to many situations.

Many small farms throughout the country have successfully kept only one cow on their property.

A proper introduction to your farm, a secure space, and plenty of interaction will help your cow adjust to its new environment.

You may even want to consider getting a companion farm animal for your cow if you do not already have other livestock.

Since cows are social animals, they are capable of bonding with different animal species.

Give Your Cow Time to Adjust

When you first bring your new cow to your farm, keeping the animal in a secure, small enclosure for 2-3 weeks is best.

Feeding and watering your cow in this smaller place helps reduce the animal’s stress and gives it a sense of safety and security in its new surroundings.

Once the cow is accustomed to its new home, you will be able to let it fully explore its new environment.

Ensure Your Fence is Secure

A single cow is very likely to look for other cows, so ensuring your fence is secure is very important.

Thoroughly check your fence for any weak spots or shorter sections your cow will be able to jump over.

If your fence is not sturdy enough, a determined cow will easily be able to push through it.

In some cases, a cow will even jump over a fence!

Further Reading: How high cows jump

Daily Interaction with Your Cow

Spend some time interacting with your cow every day at feeding time.

These daily interactions will help the cow build trust and become friendly toward you.

This bonding time allows you to monitor your cow’s health and behavior.

Get a Companion Farm Animal

If no other cows are around, a single cow will seek companionship from other farm animals.

Some excellent companion farm animals for a cow include:

  • Goats
  • Horses
  • Pigs
  • Sheep
  • Donkeys

It is best to introduce any new animals to your cow very slowly.

Keeping a fence between them for a short time will allow the animals to get used to each other and prevent possible injuries.

Over time, you will be able to keep your cow in the same enclosure as your other farm animals, and they will be friendly with each other.

The cow will also feel more secure when grazing in a pasture with horses or other similarly-sized livestock.

Related: Do sheep ruin grazing for cattle?