Cow, an adult female animal of the cattle family. (The term is also applied to females of other animals whose males are called bulls. Examples are the seal, the moose, and the elephant.) There are three types of cattle in the United States: (1) dairy cattle, developed to produce milk; (2) beef cattle, raised for their meat, and (3) dual-purpose cattle, raised for both milk and meat. This article is limited to dairy cattle. Beef and dual-purpose breeds are discussed under CATTLE.

The dairy cow's body is angular or wedge-shaped, with lean shoulders and fairly slender legs. The head is small and the neck, when seen from above, is thin. Tn purebred cows, the udder, or milk bag, is enormous. Cows are frequently dehorned, especially if they are ill tempered. Polled breeds are born without horns. The wild cow and beef-bred cow supply only enough milk to feed a single calf for 6 to 10 months. By selective breeding, dairy cows have been developed that produce as much as 25,000 pounds (11,340 kg) of milk a year. In the United States, the average yearly volume of milk produced by a cow is about 14,500 pounds (6,580 kg). (One quart of milk weighs about two pounds; one liter, about 960 g.)

Breeds of Cows

Most breeds of cows are named for their place of origin. The most common breeds of cows in North America are the following:


A large-boned, black-and-white breed originally from the Friesland province of the Netherlands. It is the most numerous dairy breed in the United States. Its milk has the lowest percentage of butterfat. The average cow weighs about 1,500 pounds (680 kg).


A small fawn-and-white or fawn-colored breed originally from the Isle of Jersey in the Channel Islands off the coast of England. It yields a yellowish milk with a high percentage of butterfat. The average cow weighs about 1,000 pounds (450 kg).


A fawn-and-white breed from the Isle of Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands. It produces yellowish milk that is rich in butterfat. The average cow weighs about 1,100 pounds (500 kg).


A red-and-white or mahogany-and-white breed with distinctive horns that curve upward. It was originally bred in Ayr, a county in Scotland. It yields fairly large amounts of milk with a low percentage of butterfat. The average cow weighs about 1,200 pounds (540 kg).

Brown Swiss

A light brown or dark brown breed from Switzerland. It produces a large volume of milk that is moderately rich in butterfat. The average cow weighs about 1,400 pounds (635 kg.).

Other Breeds

The Dutch belted cow is solid black with a broad white stripe circling the body between the fore and hind legs. The French Canadian cow, a small, dark-brown breed, is raised mostly in Quebec.

Red Danish cows, introduced into the United States from Denmark, produce large volumes of milk rich in butterfat. Red Sindhi cows, introduced into the United States from Pakistan, are noted for their ability to withstand extreme heat.

Care of Cows

Dairy cows are nervous, sensitive animals. The amount of milk they yield often depends on their care and treatment. A cow that is healthy, free of parasites, and milked in a familiar environment usually produces maximum volumes of milk.

Cows are usually milked two or three times a day for a period of 10 months. They are then usually given a break of several months.

In order to produce large volumes of milk, cows need a high-protein diet. Most cows graze on high-protein grasses, such as alfalfa. Their diet is supplemented with corn, cottonseed meal, malt, and hay. An average dairy cow consumes about 40 pounds (18 kg) of feed a day.