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Can Cows Sleep Standing Up?

Last Updated: 22.04.24


A cattle mineral feeder can be one of the most important supplements that should be provided in the cattle feeding area. It helps maintain the optimum mineral level in the cow’s system as well as the overall well-being of the cattle. Maintaining good health and a stress-free environment for the cattle is the key to obtaining maximum production levels from them.

As any experienced farmer knows, each individual cow within the herd has a particular temperament and behaves a certain way. The way a cow behaves on a daily basis depends on two very important factors: how mentally balanced the cow is and the general state of health and well-being she is in.

While the first factor depends on the genes the cow has inherited from her parents, the second one depends on how well the cows are cared for, how much the farm personnel interacts with them in a positive way, and how much they live in a stress-free environment.

Cows are good-natured animals, gentle giants when they feel safe and secure. They are usually good-tempered, obedient animals. However, many of their mental traits are, believe it or not, inherited, mostly from their mothers. Just like with people, a baby cow will inherit one parent’s looks and the other parent’s character.


How do cows commonly behave?

Nowadays, cows are mostly bred as farm animals. There are some specific factors, typical to farm breeding, that will influence the daily behavior of cows. First and foremost, cows are ruminant animals, which means they have a particular digestive system, a stomach that is made out of four separate compartments, each with its individual purpose in the digestive process.

The amount of food, as well as the quality of food provided to farm cows, will definitely influence the way they behave on a daily basis. A cow with a belly full of good, healthy food will spend most of her fay laying down calmly ruminating. By contrast, a hungry cow will be restless, will make a lot of noise and will not lay down at all.

A clean resting area in a cattle farm is another factor to be taken into consideration. Cows are usually clean animals, they will not lay down to ruminate or sleep in a filthy area. This might be one of the reasons you see some cows doze off standing up. If the resting area is clean and comfortable, cows will almost always choose to sleep laying down.

Overcrowding could take place in certain cattle farms. This is a factor that could increase stress levels to the point of a significant drop in production rates. Cows that live in an overcrowded space could sleep standing up for one or more reasons at the same time. As overcrowding occurs, keeping clean resting areas becomes a challenge.

Also, some cows may be very dominant and not allow the neighboring cow to lay down next to her, which forces one of them to sleep standing up. And thirdly, not having enough space to lay down can also be a problem, given a cow’s average size. All of these factors will contribute to a drop in the production levels, and thus the farm’s income will drop.  

Are cows that are bred by families different?

There is a significant difference between farm bred cows and family cows. The difference is that family cows take up a lot of the family’s time due to their high maintenance demands. A family cow will receive its meals at the same time every day; therefore, it often happens for a family cow to doze off standing up for a short while before her next meal is due, while she is waiting for it.

Cows are very smart animals, if the same routine takes place at the same time and in the same manner, they will begin to anticipate the action and will adjust their behavior accordingly. For instance, if a family has two cows, and the owner first feeds the same cow every time, the second one will not even get up before the first cow is served her meal.

Usually, family cows have a lot more access to grazing fresh green grass than farm cows do, which comes with many benefits, such as stronger muscle mass, giving birth to their calves with more ease, a healthier digestive system, and also, this practice gives the owner much needed time to properly clean and prepare the resting area.


Laying down versus standing up

It is a common misconception that cows sleep standing up just like horses, elephants and giraffes do. While it is true that large sized animals could suffer internal organ damage if they spend too much time laying down, things are very different when it comes to cows. They usually spend up to 14 hours per day laying down, ruminating, sleeping or just resting.

Sometimes, cows will get up, stretch well and go right back to laying down. Spending a lot of time in a laying down position comes with many benefits to cows in particular. Some of these benefits include her hooves taking a break from standing up and getting a change to dry out, a better digestion of the food and an increased blood flow in the udder.

The interesting part is that although cows spend a large portion of the day laying down, they actually sleep very little. Recent studies have shown that cows sleep for about 4 hours per day, and not all at once. One possible explanation is that cows have somehow kept their predator awareness, and so they basically never sleep a long deep sleep.

They usually sleep longer periods of time at once during the night, but not even then more than half and hour. Sleeping is very important to a cow’s health, just like it is for us, too. But, apparently, they make up the few hours they really sleep by spending a lot of time resting. This type of behavior makes them eat and ruminate around the clock.  

What other special behaviors do cows have?

The mother instinct that cows have and the way they care for their young is really something. Soon after giving birth, the cows will make a specific noise, calling her calf to her. This is a unique sound that you will only hear when a mother cow is calling her young one. Unfortunately, things are different for farm cows.

Soon after giving birth, a farm cow is separated from her calf, as he/she is taken to the nursery area and she is taken to a separate area of the farm, where all new mothers are. Her behavior over the next few days will clearly indicate a high-stress level, as she calls out for the calf, is restless all the time, lacks sleep and does not properly eat. Soon after, things cool off.

Family cows, on the other hand, get to keep their calf with them for the next 6 months, getting a chance to experience and express motherhood. As the calf gets bigger and stronger, the cows will stand up for longer periods of time while the calf feeds from her udder, alternating feeding with resting periods when they are both well fed.

It will take some time before the calf starts eating solid food and begins ruminating, in the meantime, he spends just as much time laying down and sleeping as his mother does.




1) The urban legend of cow tipping

2) How many animals can sleep standing up?

3) Do Big Animals Always Sleep Standing Up?

4) Cow behavior and comfort



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