Today’s farm cows have been selectively bred over thousands of years to produce as much meat and milk as possible, meaning they need lots more energy than they would in the wild.
Apart from a few unique cases, domestic cattle are not typically able to survive in the wild because they can’t meet their energy requirements solely from grazing. Furthermore, farmers can easily round up escaped cattle, preventing them from becoming wild in the first place.
In this article, we’ll explore the interesting topic of wild or feral cows, figuring out why we don’t see them in most places, and looking at the unique conditions that allow wild cattle to thrive on a tropical volcano!
Do Wild Cows Exist?
Wild cows do exist, but only in very rare circumstances. Usually, wild cattle occurs when a herd of domestic cattle escapes from a farm or ranch, but it’s unusual for them to last very long.
In addition, cattle are valuable and when they do manage to escape, the farmer will usually try to collect them up again and return them to the farm.
Can Cows Survive In The Wild?
Domestic cattle typically can’t survive in the wild because they have extremely high energy requirements which they can’t meet on their own in most parts of the world.
Today’s modern domestic cows are designed to maximize meat and dairy production and aren’t built for survival, although in some warm climates with plenty of fertile pasture land, herds of domesticated cattle have been known to escape and live on their own in the wild.
Can Dairy Cows Survive In The Wild?
Modern dairy breeds produce around 28 times more milk than they would need to feed their calves in the wild. That would be an insurmountable burden for a wild mother cow, who would have to find 28 times as much energy through foraging.
On the farm, dairy cows are allowed to graze for part of the day, but their diets are supplemented with grains, hay, silage, and other nutrient dense foods to ensure they have enough energy to keep producing milk in large quantities.
In the wild, dairy cows would be unable to consume enough food to sustain their abnormal levels of milk production. Without the farmer supplementing their diet and relieving their excess milk, the milk buildup would quickly develop in to an infection, and the cow would starve.
Can Beef Cows Survive In The Wild?
Beef cattle are typically more hardy than dairy cattle and don’t have the added energy burden of having to produce milk, however beef cattle have their own problems which impact their ability to survive in the wild.
Beef cattle have been bred to produce beef as efficiently as possible. This means large bodies with more fat, smaller heads, less bone density, and some breeds even have no horns.
These adaptations are great for beef farming, but mean that they would be less robust than wild bovine species, need to forage more to maintain their large bodies, and could not defend themselves against predators if they were to escape and become feral.
Although unusual, where wild cattle populations do exist, they are typically descended from beef herds.
Where Do Wild Cows Live?
Although uncommon, wild cattle herds can be found where a number of unlikely circumstances combine to create a suitable environment.
Wild cows can be found where there is sufficient land for them to graze in outside the farm, a hospitable climate where there is enough flora for them to eat all year round, and some additional circumstance which prevents the farmer from simply collecting the cattle and returning them to the farm.
Are There Wild Cows In America?
There are very few wild cattle herds in North America. Cold winters in the north and desert heat in the south mean even if cattle did manage to escape, growing conditions are too poor to provide sufficient grazing year round.
In the great plains of the USA and Canada, where cattle is frequently raised on large scale ranch operations, any escaped cattle would quickly be rounded up and returned to their owner.
One place in America with plenty of wild cows is Hawaii. The tropical climate and fertile volcanic soil enable the cows to find plenty to eat all year round, and the dense forest cover prevents farmers from being able to return the cows to the farm.
Hawaii’s wild cattle were originally introduced in the 1800s by British explorers, but without any natural predators the population quickly expanded to over 25,000 wild cows.
Are There Wild Cows In India?
In India, cows are considered sacred by the majority Hindu population, and slaughtering cows is completely forbidden in most Indian states.
There are over five million wild cows in India, many of which are allowed to freely roam the streets of towns and villages across the country.
Are There Wild Cows In Europe?
There are no longer any large populations of wild cow in Europe, owing to the lack of forest to provide cover, high population density, and cold winter climates.
What Do Wild Cows Look Like?
Wild cattle are usually descended from an escaped beef cattle herd, so the feral cattle will look very similar to the farmed breed, potentially with some evolutionary adaptations after a few generations which help the cattle thrive in the wild.
In the case of the Hawaiian wild cattle, they are descended from the Hereford breed popularly raised for beef, but have adapted to the tropical environment by becoming leaner, and by having longer legs than their farmed counterparts which helps them deal with the rough, mountainous terrain of Hawaii.
In conclusion, cows can definitely survive in the wild, but only when a very unique set of circumstances all align. In most cases, when a cow herd escapes the farmer simply returns the cows to their field.
For cows to survive in the wild, they need to be somewhere warm enough to allow foliage to grow all year round to keep them fed, there needs to be heaps of space for them to roam, and there needs to be a physical or human reason why the farmer wouldn’t just collect the cows again.
Two notable wild cattle populations are in Hawaii and India, where the warm climate provides enough foliage for the cows to graze year round.
In Hawaii, the tropical forest prevents the farmers from herding the cows back on to a farm, and in much of India cows are considered sacred and are allowed to roam freely.