When I was in 6th grade I joined my school’s FFA program and begged my parents to get me a cow to show at the state fair. Eventually they gave in and I brought home a beautiful black cow named Onyx. I worked with her every single day and we became the best of friends!
I remember every year at the fair Onyx and I would cuddle up in our spot and curious fairgoers always came up to ask us questions. Believe it or not, the question people asked the most was “why can’t cows go down stairs?”
Why can’t cows go down the stairs?
The answer to this question is actually very simple; cow’s bodies are simply not made for stairs. Cattle are very large, and they walk very differently than humans do, and stairs are designed for human legs. Cows just have a hard time getting their massive bodies down steep steps.
The fairgoers always had follow-up questions after they found out why cows cannot go down the stairs; can they go up stairs? Can they run downhill? Can they jump? Can they swim? You would actually be surprised by what cows can and cannot do! Cattle are incredible animals, so this article is dedicated to all you curious animal lovers who want to know all about what cattle can and cannot do!
Can Cows go Down Stairs?
So technically cows can walk down stairs, but it is extremely difficult for them. There are basically two variables to consider when determining whether or not a cow can go down stairs; the size of the cow and the incline of the stairs. Larger cattle have a much harder time going down stairs than smaller cows, and the steeper the steps the more difficult it will be for a cow to walk down the stairs.
My Onyx encountered steps a few times at the fair before she retired. There were never more than 3 or 4 steps, so usually she chose to jump from the top to the bottom. Keep in mind Onyx was a BIG girl. She weighed a little over 1,500 pounds, so even though the stairs were not very steep she was much more comfortable avoiding walking down them. If she was tired, she would walk very slowly down the steps but she did not enjoy it.
Why Can’t Cows go Down Stairs?
There are basically two main factors that make it difficult for cows to walk down the stairs. First, keep in mind that stairs are not found in nature. Stairs are a man-made obstacle designed for human legs. Second, think about how cow’s bodies are shaped and how large they are. Cattle tend to have stocky, rectangular shaped bodies and stand on four legs. Their bodies are designed for standing on flat grasslands where they can graze. Think about what would happen if you put a heavy object on the top of a slope; chances are that object is going to come tumbling down and crash on the floor. Cows are HUGE animals. The chart below includes the average weights of 7 popular breeds of cattle.
|Breed||Average Adult Male Weight||Average Adult Female Weight|
|Black Angus||About 1,800 to 2,000 lbs.||About 1,000 lbs.|
|Charolais||About 2,500 lbs.||About 2,000 lbs.|
|Hereford||About 2,600 lbs.||About 1,700 lbs.|
|Simmental||Almost 3,000 lbs.||About 1,500 to 2,000 lbs.|
|Texas Longhorn||About 1,800 lbs.||About 1,000 lbs.|
|Galabieh||A little over 2,000 lbs.||About 1,600 lbs.|
|Holstein||About 2,000 lbs.||About 1,500 lbs.|
Another factor that makes it hard for cows to go down the stair is their eyes. Cattle’s eyes are more on the side of their head; this helps them to keep a look out for predators and to always have an eye on the herd. Because of this, cattle have a very hard time seeing directly in front of them, and an even harder time seeing the ground directly below their head. So, on top of weighing anywhere from 1,000 to 3,000 pounds these animals also cannot see the stairs below them. The only reason Onyx was occasionally willing to walk down steps was because she was trained to walk on a halter and trusted me to guide her (and she only had to go down like 3 steps).
Can Cows go up Stairs?
Yes actually! Cows can go up stairs, and it is much easier for them than going down stairs. They still do not really enjoy it and do not feel very comfortable with it, but cows are much more willing to climb up the stairs than they are climbing down.
Can Cows run Downhill?
Yes, they can, and it is adorable. Stairs are man-made but hills are a natural phenomenon, and hills are common in some grasslands. It is still difficult for cows to go downhill because they are such large animals, which is why they usually run downhill instead of walk.
Can Cows Walk Backwards Down Stairs?
Cows cannot walk backwards down stairs for the same reasons they cannot walk forward down stairs; their bodies are too large, stairs are too steep, and they cannot see directly in front of or behind them.
Can Baby Cows go Down the Stairs?
The same rules apply for baby cows going down stairs as adults; stairs are difficult for them because of the shape of their bodies, how much they weigh, the incline of the stairs, and the fact that they cannot see directly in front of or behind them. In my experience, it is much easier to persuade a baby cow to go down the stairs than an adult. When Onyx had her first baby, Max, I could get him to do almost anything. Baby cows weigh significantly less than adults and they have a natural instinct to follow their mother and other members of their herd. Because of this they are much more willing to “follow the leader” down stairs and their size allows them to do so more safely. Keep in mind, my cows never encountered more than 4 steps, so I’m sure Max would not have been capable of walking down an entire flight of stairs.
Can cows jump?
Yes, cows can and do jump. One of our cows, Gracie, used to jump in and out of the trailer because she did not like to use the steps. And Onyx’s baby Max used to love jumping over logs and other obstacles when he was little! Cows cannot jump nearly as high (or as gracefully) as horses, but they are still completely capable of leaping over hurdles!
Can Cows Climb Ladders?
Absolutely not. Ladders are even steeper and narrower than stairs, and as I mentioned, cattle cannot see directly in front of or below their heads. And again, cow’s bodies are designed for standing on flat grasslands where they can graze. Even if cattle could see in front of them and weighed significantly less, they have hooves for feet. Their bodies are simply not designed for climbing.
Can cows swim?
Yes, cows can swim. We live in Florida, so our cows used to love taking a dip in the pond on hot summer days. Our cows preferred to stay in shallower water where they could walk but they did sometimes venture deeper into the pond where they had to doggy paddle (or cow paddle).
What other animals cannot go down stairs?
Obviously, animals without legs cannot go up or down stairs. Critters like snakes, fish, whales, and dolphins for example, cannot go down stairs. Animals with hooves also have a very hard time with stairs. This group would include animals like cows, horses, goats, buffalos, and pigs.