Cows are large, lumbering beasts with clunky backward-pointing knees and a weight of over 1200lbs on average. You would be forgiven for thinking cows couldn’t jump much more than a few inches off the ground at most, but surprisingly they can.
In extreme circumstances, cows have been known to jump over seven feet (over 2 meters) high off the ground. This is high enough to clear most fences and walls on farms. Although cows can jump fairly high if they need to, they don’t like doing it and only jump when they feel threatened or in other critical situations, or where they have specifically been trained by humans for jumping.
In this article, we’ll find out exactly how high cows can jump and what implications it has for farming, learn why they don’t like to jump even though they can and look at some of the situations that would cause a cow to jump a fence or wall.
What is the Maximum Height a Cow Can Jump?
The question of maximum cow jumping height is important, especially in agriculture where farmers need to be able to safely contain herds of cattle. Luckily, we have some pretty solid evidence of cows’ jumping abilities in the form of cattle exhibitions and cows jumping fixed height objects like fences.
Most cattle can jump two or three feet off the ground, however larger breeds have been known to jump over five feet high in extreme circumstances. The highest known jump of any cow was 7 feet (2.1 meters) and occurred at the 2013 Bovine Agility Exhibition in Helsinki.
How High Does a Fence Need To Be to Contain a Cow?
Although there are a few rare examples of cows clearing five foot fences, most farms do not need such high fences to contain their cattle.
According to a report by the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture, fences designed to contain cattle should be at least 54 inches (4.5 feet / 137cm) tall.
Where high fences aren’t an option, there are some innovative construction methods that keep cattle contained without having a 6 foot high fence around their fields.
The first option is to build a solid fence, which obstructs the cow’s view and removes any desire to jump over it. In a 1997 research paper, eminent cattle researcher Dr. Temple Grandin explains that “Solid fences prevent the cattle from seeing moving people and other distractions outside the fence.” A solid fence only needs to be tall enough to block the cow from seeing over it.
Another option for containing cows is to plant a hedgerow. Hedgerows, or hedges are living boundaries that separate farmland. Hedgerows are wide, so even if a cow could feasibly make it over the top, they could not pass through the thick hedge.
If Cows Can Jump So High, Why Don’t They?
When I first learned that cows could jump seven feet high, I could barely believe it. Every time I’ve seen a cow it’s been standing placidly in a field, staring off into the distance with four hooves planted firmly in the ground. If cows are so great at jumping, why don’t we see them jumping all over the place like deer?
Although cows can jump, they prefer to walk because jumping is risky for an animal that can weigh up to three tonnes. The simple answer is that what goes up must come down, and even a jump of a few feet can be dangerous to land for such a heavy animal.
1: Cows’ Legs are Unstable
Although cows have huge, powerful muscles at the top of their legs, their legs are unstable and are prone to splaying on hard or uneven surfaces.
When a cow lands a jump, the sheer force of their mass accelerating towards the ground puts an enormous strain on their legs and may cause them to splay.
Cows’ legs are so prone to lateral splaying that farmers have a special tool called an anti-splay rope that helps to protect them. It looks like something from the middle ages, but it serves a useful purpose and prevents cattles’ legs from splaying when they have to be inside on slippery concrete barns or milking parlors.
2: Cows’ Hooves are Extremely Fragile
Cow hooves are a major source of injuries in cattle today. The main problem is that inside the hard outer shell, cows have sensitive and fragile feet that are prone to bruising.
Cows don’t like to jump because if they land on something hard on the other side they are very likely to bruise their fragile foot, which can lead to the hoof having to be removed.
Cows’ hooves are so sensitive to injury that they are regularly trimmed by a hoof specialist, who can look out for signs of internal injuries that might not be visible to the untrained eye under the hard hoof shell.
3: The Energy Expenditure
The final reason cows don’t tend to jump much is the amount of energy needed for the cow to lift themselves off the ground.
Energy is in short supply for cows already, who have to spend up to 14 hours a day grazing just to find enough grass to meet their energy requirements.
Cows don’t jump around for the same reason humans don’t sprint everywhere and do pull-ups all day. It takes a vast amount of energy that could be better spent elsewhere.
Situations Where Cows Jump High
Cows rarely jump because it’s risky for them, so when something causes a cow to want to jump into the air, you know it’s something important.
Some of the reasons cows jump include:
1: Jumping For Joy
Cows run, jump, and bounce when they are excited or happy. One happy herd from Ballymena in Northern Ireland made the news in 2017 after the farmer recorded them jumping for joy after being let outside for the first time in nine months.
Read More: Can Cows Experience Joy?
2: To Reach Food, Water, or Other Cows
Cows have been known to jump fences and gates to gain access to crops, or to fresh pasture once they have used up the available grass in their existing field. Bulls can also jump (or crash through) fences to get to female cows in heat.
3: To Escape Danger
Like all prey animals, cows are very perceptive and are easily spooked. Although cows have horns and hooves to defend themselves, given the choice they will always choose to flee rather than stay and fight.
To sum up, most cattle can jump a few feet off the ground, but in extreme cases cows have been known to jump up to 7 feet (213cm) off the ground.
Although cows can jump high when they need to, their extreme mass, clumsy hind legs and fragile hooves mean they prefer to stay on the ground.
Situations that would cause a cow to jump include jumping out of happiness, to reach food or water, or to escape from predators.