Depending on the breed, cows range from having short, wiry coats to long, fluffy locks flowing in the wind.
But do cows have fur, hair, or both?
Furthermore, how are fur and hair different, and why do those differences matter?
How is a cow’s coat different from a dog’s fur or even a human’s hair?
Cows actually have hair rather than fur. Although hair and fur are both made of keratin, they differ in purpose and texture. Cows have a coat of thin hair covering their hide, but the hair does not provide protection from the elements like fur does.
Keep reading to learn more about cows’ soft, fuzzy coats, their purpose, and whether they’re made of fur or hair.
Hair Vs. Fur: What’s the Difference?
Before we get into whether or not cows have fur or hair (or perhaps even both), it’ll be helpful to first understand what hair and fur technically are and how the two compare to each other.
Interestingly, from a purely scientific standpoint, hair and fur are made up of the same stuff.
They’re both mainly composed of keratin.
Keratin is a fibrous protein that also makes up:
- Human hair
- Birds’ feathers
- Reptiles’ scales
- Animal coats
Cows’ hooves are also made up primarily of keratin.
It’s also worth noting there are two main types of keratin: the softer type, alpha-keratin, which tends to make up mammals’ hair, skin, and nails, and a harder type, beta-keratin, which makes up reptiles’ and birds’ claws, scales, shells, feathers, and beaks.
What makes animal hair and fur different from one another is not what they’re made of, though.
The difference has more to do with how it covers the animal’s body, its texture, and its purpose.
Hair, such as the hair on humans’ heads and bodies, tends to be longer, thinner, lighter, and softer than fur.
It doesn’t provide nearly as much protection from the elements as fur does.
It typically grows in certain areas or patches rather than covering an animal’s entire body.
Hair also tends to grow continuously rather than stay at a uniform length like fur.
On the other hand, fur is usually shorter, coarser, and denser than hair.
Its biggest differentiating factor is its overall function, or how it provides much more protection from the elements than hair does.
Fur is also often made up of two separate dense coats, an undercoat, and a protective topcoat.
As you might imagine, fur is more commonly associated with animals than humans (though, confusingly, humans are technically animals, too).
Animal body fur also tends to shed and regrow seasonally, while hair slowly falls out and regrows gradually and constantly.
Now, with all this being said, the answer to “do cows have fur or hair” seems quite straightforward, right?
Do Cows Have Fur, Hair, or Both?
It turns out cows have hair and not fur!
Cowhide is actually covered in a fine layer of hair rather than true fur.
As mentioned above, the differences between hair and fur have nothing to do with their chemical composition.
They’re both made of the same material: keratin.
Instead, most experts differentiate fur from ordinary hair based on the purpose they serve as well as a wide range of other criteria including their texture, length, growth patterns, and their growth rate.
And even then, definitively telling the difference between the two is often tricky and varies depending on who you ask!
By glancing at a typical domesticated cow, most of us would assume their bodies are covered in a fur coat.
Based on the criteria we covered above, it seems to check many right boxes.
Cows’ entire bodies are covered with it, growing to particular norms for hair length and stops.
But while a cow’s coat looks furry, the individual fibers and how they grow are much more similar to hair than fur.
Unlike truly furry animals like dogs and cats, the fibers do not grow in layered coats (a guard coat and an undercoat, for example) but rather in one layer.
The fibers themselves are also thin and more sparsely distributed like hair rather than coarse and dense like fur.
Finally, the answer becomes a bit clearer if we look at the purpose a cow’s body covering serves.
As we now know, the primary purpose of an animal’s fur is to provide protection from wind, cold, rain, and other unpleasant elements.
Cow hair is too thin and not nearly dense enough to give a cow any real protection from the elements.
Admittedly, cow hair is a bit of an outlier compared to typical hair.
Still, even though the individual fibers are short and uniform like fur, their overall texture and function ultimately make them best defined as hair.
Further Reading: Cows with long and fluffy hair (with pictures)
Does Cow Hair Need To Be Groomed?
Fortunately, if you don’t plan to use the cow for show purposes, most cow breeds do not need any specific grooming as far as their hair is concerned!
Since the hair on cows is quite short and thin, most cows can take care of most of their hygiene needs themselves.
Their hair doesn’t grow continuously, so it doesn’t need trimming.
Cows are quite social animals and often groom each other by licking.
Alternatively, they will often rub their bodies against certain textures like rocks and trees to remove dirt or scratch a hard-to-reach itch.
Even long-haired cattle breeds like the Highland require very little maintenance for their coats besides an occasional brush or wash.
If you notice your cows’ coats becoming especially dirty, a quick once-over with a grooming brush is recommended to remove debris.
A quick bath with gentle, animal-safe soap and warm water is usually enough to tackle stubborn dirt or mats.
Either bathe your cows in warm weather or use a cattle blower to ensure the coat dries quickly.
Keep in mind, though, that cows still need regular hoof trims!
Their hooves grow continuously and must be trimmed on average twice a year.
Will Cow Fur Stop Growing?
Cow hair and fur, much like other animals, ebbs and flows naturally.
In winter, cows grow more hair to help them insulate and stay warm during the colder temperatures.
They shed some of this hair during spring to return to their typical summer coats.
But if you show cows, it’s not abnormal to be worried if the coats start coming in patchy or the hair starts falling out.
If you rule out serious illness or natural seasonal shifts, then the most likely cause is primary mineral deficiencies.
Like our own hair, the main makeup of cow fur is organic minerals.
Hair growth slows or stops when mineral consumption dips (through a lack of access to minerals in our diet or food with little actual mineral content).
A mineral program of supplements and mineral mixtures with help.
A concentrated mineral supplement like this on Amazon will help raise the amounts of mineral balance in the cow and hopefully increase hair growth back to its norm.