Cows and Horses - do they make good pasture buddies?
MEH….yes and no. There are a few good reasons to pasture them together, and a few not so good reasons.
Cows and horses (and goats for that matter) all eat pasture differently, so using horses alongside other grazers can help relieve you of some pasture maintenance duties. Horses eat the grass all the way down, cows prefer the longer stuff. This is good, as horses will avoid eating around their manure, which allows the grass there to grow to cow height. Goats can just come and clean up the weeds!
The lonely horse might also really like hanging out with some company. If a cow is what you have, then your horse may have a new BFF.
These two spend their days grazing and go to separate barns for feed.
The downsides are a few - mainly about feeding requirements and some other stuff. First, it’s possible that a cow virus called bovine papillomavirus can cause equine sarcoids. In cows this is usually warts, growths, and some cancers of the urinary system and digestive system. It’s speculated that flies transmit this virus.
Speaking of flies, there are some types of fly that love cows, and coincidentally will latch on to your horse also. The horn fly is a great example of a “cow fly” that is super irritating and obnoxious to horses.
The main reason to keep cows and horses separate concerns feed. Without wiring a zillion pages on the digestive systems of cows and horses, know this instead: the cow takes much longer to digest his roughage and have several “cycles” of digestion - like regurgitating his cud. This means that cows are able to take lesser quality hay, grass, and feeds and get the maximum nutrition out. Horses, on the other hand, are not so efficient and need higher quality hay.
Adorable, yet maybe not the best pasture mate, although it could work!
Horses and cows (like dogs and cats) require different amounts of nutrients, as their jobs are different and their bodies are different. Cows usually need feed to make milk or steak, horses need nutrients to be athletes. So, their feeds are going to vary greatly in terms of quality, nutrients added, and how digestible the feed is.
For cow feed, it’s also common for anti-coccidial medications to be added, such as monensin sodium. Necessary for cows, LETHAL FOR HORSES. Even in the tiniest of bites, your horse can have a lethal reaction and die within two days or so. For more on the dangers of feeding your horse with cattle feed, read this article.
SO - a few things to think about when you start to mix horses and cows. If you want the benefits of horses and cows mowing a pasture, you can always rotate who is grazing there to avoid mixing feeds and supplemental hay.