Have you heard that cows sleep standing up? We don’t know where this myth began, but it’s only partly true. Cows can doze lightly while on their feet, but when it comes to deep sleep, they need to lie down. Just like a human, sleep is critical to cattle’s welfare and quality of life.
Do cows sleep standing up?
No. Cows don’t sleep standing up. When cows need deep sleep, they like to lie down to get it.
Cattle need about 4 hours of sleep a day. This can be divided into drowsing, non-rapid eye movement (NREM), and rapid eye movement (REM). To obtain a sufficient amount of deep, NREM and REM sleep, a cow must be able to lie down for 1-4 hours and have enough room to do so. Cows can’t enter REM sleep while standing and this can lead to sleep deprivation.
In addition to deep sleep, cows nap during the day for 5-10 minutes at a time. During these naps, the cow can be standing with its eyes closed or lying down.
Can cows nap while standing up?
Yes. Cattle often enter a restful state while standing and they may even shut their eyes. This makes it appear that they’re sleeping, but they’re really not.
How do cows doze standing up and not fall over?
It’s hard to imagine napping while standing, so how do cows do it? Most specifically, how can they not fall over while sleeping?
According to Amy Johnson, of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, “The legs of horses [and other animals] have what’s known as the ‘stay apparatus.’ Their limbs contain tendons and ligaments that allow the animal to remain standing with minimal muscular effort, and thus allow them to stand—and even doze—for long periods.”
What other animals sleep or doze standing up?
Most four-legged land herbivores can doze lightly on their feet, but they have to lie down to sleep deeply. This includes big animals such as cows, moose, rhinos, bison, elephants, and horses.
Where do cows sleep?
Every farmer has their own practices, but typically, beef cattle sleep in the pasture. On our farm, our cows often gather together in a herd near trees. One of the reason they gather as a group is because cows have strong protection behavior and they’re part of the class that falls prey to predators. This means cattle are always alert in case of approaching danger.
A Colorado State University graduate student did a study on the protective behaviors of cows and calves. The study found that when there was a potential threat (like an unknown vehicle, person or predator in the field), the Mama cow would place herself between the potential threat and her calf in order to protect the calf.
Is it possible to tip a cow?
No, this is an urban legend that only happens in the movies.
First, you have to remember that cows are very apprehensive and uneasy of anything that’s unfamiliar to them. They are easily disturbed and they would run away from anyone that got close to them.
Second, don’t forget that a cow weighs around 1,000 lbs (when not pregnant), and that’s a lot of weight to push over.
Third, even if you did get close enough, a cow stands on four legs and would quickly shift their stance when you pushed on them so that they didn’t fall.
In case you still think it’s possible, make sure you read about the students from the University of British Columbia that have developed a mathematical formula that proves cow-tipping is a myth.
Learn more about cattle and beef
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