Can horses and cows live together?


  • There are a few good reasons to pasture horses and cows together.  There are also a few not-so-good reasons.


  • Horses and cows can be great companions and even help keep your pastures healthy. You also have to worry about extra cow-loving flies attacking your horse and the dangers of having your horse eat your cow’s feed and hay. ​​​​​


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Cows and horses eat pasture differently.


  • Using horses alongside other grazers can help relieve you of some pasture maintenance duties.


  • Horses eat the grass all the way down. Their upper and lower teeth are able to rip off delicious grass close to the earth. Cows, on the other hand, have only a bottom row of teeth and use their tongues to rip out grass about mid-height.


  • For some farms, rotating pastures in a specific order helps you keep mowing and maintenance down to a minimum. Horses can eat a pasture unevenly. Then the horses are moved out, and cows come in to even it all out. Then, goats come in to eat the weeds and literally everything else.


  • This is good, as horses will avoid eating around their manure, which allows the grass there to grow to cow height. Goats can just come and clean up the weeds!



Does your horse need to live with cows for the company?


  • The lonely horse might like hanging out with some company. If a cow is what you have, then your horse may have a new BFF.


  • It’s really tricky to say how many cows and horses can live together. This is largely an equation solved by how much land is available and how many horses and cows live on it! Doing a search told me that one horse and one cow per 10 acres is just about right. Another said you could have more horses and cows every three to five acres. Additional sources said different things of varying combinations. When in doubt, talk to your vet about your specific creatures and their needs.



two horses resting with cows in big field


The possible problems with cows and horses together.


Bovine papillomavirus and equine sarcoids.


  • It’s possible that a cow virus called bovine papillomavirus can cause tumors in horses, called sarcoids. In cows, this is usually warts, growths, and some cancers of the urinary system and digestive system. Many sarcoids removed from horses contain some form of bovine papillomavirus. Do flies transmit this virus? It’s likely.


  • Sarcoids are a type of tumor in horses that is non-malignant. This means it won’t spread to other organs, but they are pretty invasive locally. Sarcoids are usually found around a horse’s face, and can easily interfere with tack.


  • Sarcoids are also wonderful bleeders if bumped or irritated, so there’s that to contend with. Most can be removed surgically.


Horn flies that love cows will take advantage of your horse.


  • There are some types of flies that love cows and coincidentally will latch on to your horse also. The horn fly is a great example of a “cow fly” that is super irritating and obnoxious to horses.


  • Horn flies are tiny and look like little triangles. They usually hang out on shoulders and backs, but when the weather is too hot or wet, they will attack bellies.


  • Both the male and female horn fly will feed on blood. They prefer to eat about 30 times a DAY. They lay their eggs in manure and can survive the winter below a manure pile in the pasture to emerge in the spring. Yet another reason to pick the manure from your pastures!


The dangers of monensin in cow feed.


  • One of the best reasons to keep cows and horses separate concerns cow feed and monensin.  Monensin is an ingredient commonly found in cow feed, and it’s lethal for horses. 


  • Without writing a zillion pages on the digestive systems of cows and horses, know this instead: the cow takes much longer to digest his roughage and has several “cycles” of digestion – like regurgitating his cud.


  • This means that cows are able to take lesser quality hay, grass, and feeds and get the maximum nutrition out. Horses, on the other hand, are not so efficient and need higher-quality hay.


brown cow in a pasture

Adorable, yet maybe not the best pasture mate, although it could work!


  • Horses and cows (like dogs and cats) require different amounts of nutrients, as their jobs are different and their bodies are different. Cows usually need feed to make milk or steak, horses need nutrients to be athletes. So, their feeds are going to vary greatly in terms of quality, nutrients added, and how digestible the feed is.



  • If you have a situation where your pasture needs to be supplemented with hay, silage and haylage are NOT options for horses. Depending on where you live, the terms silage and haylage might mean something different.


  • For simplicities sake, let’s just call haylage and silage fermented, which a cow can easily handle, but a horse can’t. The moisture content creates a petri dish for botulism and mold to take hold, both of which are potentially deadly to horses.


  • What does this mean? Your pocketbook will take the hit as you feed your horse and cow higher-quality hay.


Fencing options for horses and cows.


  • You want to be sure your fencing is horse safe – which means no barbed wire. You may need to invest in some hot wire or a different style of fence to keep your horses and cows contained.

SO – a few things to think about when mixing horses and cows. If you want the benefits of horses and cows mowing a pasture, you can always rotate who is grazing there to avoid mixing feeds and supplemental hay.


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