When I was a kid, part of my summer days was spent with broomsticks and tree limbs in hand, my siblings, mom and I guarding against the herds of cattle that traveled from the hills to the valley, but right past our yard. At the time, brooms were our best option to keep the cows from trampling the flowers my mother spend hours a day nurturing.
Whether you raise your own cattle, or a neighbor has cows, one cause of concern is often how to keep your yard and landscaping safe. A cow will munch on just about anything green, so keeping them away from your plants, gardens, and trees is imperative.
How to stop cows from eating plants:
- Place Fencing Around the Plants
- Leave A Buffer Between the Cattle and Plants
- Plant Unappetizing Shrubs in Between the Cows and Plants
- Provide Enough Food For The Cows
- Consider a Cattle Dog
With these helpful tips and having extra information about cows on your side, you can defend your plants from the inevitable. We’re going to discuss what cows like to eat (and more importantly what they don’t) and how you can make sure that your plants are free of harm’s way using different methods.
Note: Technically cattle is the proper term and a cow is a female cattle that has birthed a calf. However, this article uses the terms cows and cattle interchangeably to make it more understandable for a wider audience.
Are Cows Vegetarian? Cows are generally considered vegetarian because their main diet consists of grass, forage plants, and hay. However, many cattle are not vegetarian in the strictest sense. Some cattle are fed meat products and many cows eat a certain percentage of bugs and small animals. For more information check out Are cows vegetarian?
5 Steps to Stopping Cows From Eating Plants
Some cows will try almost any plant. If your plants taste sweet to a cow’s tongue, there are five ways you can stop nearby cows from eating your plants.
1. Place Fencing Around the Plants
The absolute best way to keep cows from eating plants is to install a fence around your garden. Fences are ideal as they are likely strong enough to keep cows out of the garden, if with pushing and tugging from the cattle.
There are several different types of fences that can be used to keep cows out. The fence type you choose will depend on a variety of factors, including how many cattle you have, how much strength you require from your fence, and what is aesthetically pleasing to your yard.
There are two imperative characteristics that make up a good fence for cows: first and foremost the fence should offer a physical barrier. The physical barrier will stop cows in their tracks, leading them to turn around and leave your plants alone.
A note about fences:
Cows will constantly push against fences to find a weakness. That’s why electric fences are one of the most popular fences to keep cows contained. My neighbors’ cows get out within minutes of when their electric fence gets turned off.
The cows always know. You can learn all about electric fences in this guide on electric fences.
A visual barrier is also important. Many people may discredit this simple fact.
But just as a physical barrier is necessary to keep cows away from the fence, a visual barrier is important, too. If the cows can’t see the temptation on the other side of the visual barrier, they don’t know what they are missing.
It acts as an extra layer of defense for your plants.
Cows are strong. They can destroy fences quickly. They like to rub against fences and push for weaknesses. Other times, they are simply looking for a way to itch a scratch they can’t reach.
Pushing against the fence to ease their itches is just one way in which a fence can be quickly strained, damaged, and broken.
There are a few different types of fencing for cattle available on the market, each with their own price tag:
- Barbed Wire. This is an effective barrier for cows. Barbed wire with at least five strands is highly recommended, as it will keep cattle at bay with no problem. In some circumstances, you might get by with less wiring.
- Woven Wire. Woven wire is also a popular choice for farmers and those looking to keep their cattle away from plants. The woven wire is both a physical and visual barrier. Unfortunately, this type of fencing can easily be destroyed by cattle.
It is highly recommended to apply a strand of either barbed wire or electric wire to reinforce this type of fence.
- Electric Fence, also called high Tensile Smooth Wire. High tensile smooth wire is the best option for keeping cattle from eating plants. Electric fences can handle a whopping amount of 1,000 pounds of cattle, won’t lose elasticity over time, and won’t require as many repairs. Cattle are no match for this type of fence.
- Wood Board. This fencing doesn’t contain cattle as well, but if you have plenty of wide-open land and prefer the aesthetic look of wood then it may be an ok option.
As you can see, there are several options when it comes to choosing a livestock fence. Some things you should consider before making an ultimate decision includes:
- The size of your land. The more space you have, the less likely you’re going to need to contain your cattle as aggressively. A barbed-wire fence would work well for this situation, and it is a cost-effective solution to keeping cows from eating plants.
- The number of cows you own. How many cows you need to contain makes a difference. A farmer with just a few cows may not need an electric fence to keep his livestock at bay, while a farmer with hundreds will certainly need a fence that can handle the load.
- Your budget. It will all come down to dollars in the end, so make sure you’re finding a fencing solution that matches your funds. Don’t go too cheap, though, or you may end up needing to pay more to have the fence fixed and repaired regularly (or completely redone).
- What you find aesthetically pleasing. This is always important, especially if you’re someone who finds the look of their yard to look a certain way. Some people might find that the wood board offers old world charm, while others think the glossy visual of high tensile to be modern and ideal.
Tips and Tricks for Fencing Cattle
There are certain things to keep in mind when installing your fences, whether you opt for the high tensile, barbed wire, woven wire, or wood board. These helpful tips and tricks will make sure you get the job done right.
Always Install a Gate
So many times people forget to install the gate. This is mostly due to the fact that they’re scared it will leave a weaker area for cows to breakthrough.
But, a gate allows a way for you to get in and out without compromising the fence.
Firstly, you wouldn’t want to hop over the fence every time you go to tend to your cattle. A gate provides comfort and ease of use for the farmer.
Secondly, if a cow needs to leave the area, you won’t want to create a hole in your fence. Cattle can’t just hop over like a human, so ensuring there’s a safe place for the cow to come and go is essential. This, again, will save your fence from potential harm and damage.
The gate should be big enough to let yourself and at least one cow in and out at a time. To make your gate a little bit more effective and deter cows from barging through, toss some barbed wire on the top- just like you would do with any woven wire fence.
Make Sure to Use Proper Bracing
A fence brace is crucial to the overall sturdiness and reliability of the fence. It is the post that will reinforce your fence, which could mean the difference between your cattle breaking down the barrier or holding them back from eating your plants.
Bracing should be at least twice the length of the height of the fence. This will offer you with the right amount of support to keep the cows away from the garden.
Use Proper Planning with Placement
You don’t want to leave an area for a cow to be hemmed in, and you also don’t want to have your posts too close together or too far apart.
Did you know?
Fence posts should typically be no farther apart than 50-100 feet.
2. Leave A Buffer Between Cows and Plants
This may go without saying, but a lot of people may be unaware of the impact their placement is having on their cattle and plants. Proper placement of both the cattle and plants is the simplest, most cost-effective solution to keeping cattle from eating the plants.
A cow will eat just about anything. If the cow can see it, then he is probably going to want it. He could go as far as pushing over a weak fence to get to the tasty plants he sees.
It’s best to keep your plants as far away from the cows as possible. They should be grown far enough away that the cow is unable to see it, and will have enough food around him to keep him happy without scavenging for anything else.
Don’t Place Plants Next to Fences
Always remember not to place your plants directly next to a fence. Cows have the ability to get their mouths on food that is placed nearby.
Even in areas where space is limited, it’s best to keep the plants far enough away from the fence so the cows can’t reach it. They may be tempted to go and grab a bite, but with the right fence- such as an electric they will be stopped in their tracks.
Don’t Tempt the Cows
The best thing to do is not tempt the cattle. This will not only save your plants but will also ensure that nothing happens to your fence. If you can, keep the plants completely out of sight from the cows.
3. Place Unappetizing Shrubs Between the Cows and Plants
Have you ever heard anyone say that a cow will eat anything? They’re mostly correct, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t still some things that will turn a cow off.
A Cow’s Diet
Before knowing what a cow simply will not eat, it’s important to know what they will eat. And while the saying goes that ‘nothing is off limits’ to a cow, it isn’t because they are simply senseless animals- in fact, they are quite smart.
Aside from their braininess, cows are naturally created with four parts in their stomachs. These four parts allow them to consume almost anything without it hurting their stomachs, whether it’s roughage and grains, or plants and trees.
The majority of a cow’s diet will come down to the following:
- Roughage. This is the key ingredient to a cow’s diet, as it gives them the bulk they need to grow big and strong and have proper bowel movements. Roughage will include hay and grass, as well as silage.
- Grains. Grains will give the cows the energy they need, but unfortunately, don’t provide them with much necessary fiber. Grains that are fed to cows include corn, oats, and barley. Cattle do not require as many grains as they do roughage.
- Oilseeds. Soybeans and canola meal will typically be in a cow’s diet, providing them with a substantial amount of protein, fiber, and energy.
It’s clear to see that the cow is ready to take on any food that comes its way. This, of course, includes those delicious plants found in the garden. However, placing the few unappetizing shrubs in front to block their view will certainly help lessen the chance of cattle getting a hold of your plants.
Shrub Placement is Key
When it comes to deterring cattle from eating your plants, a great way to keep their mind off of going any further is to plant some unappetizing shrubs right outside of the fence.
But, a cow may still try and get their hands on these tasteless shrubs.
It’s best to always make sure that these unappealing shrubs are a few feet away from the fence. This may cut into your garden a bit, but it’s much better than having to replace the shrubs every few weeks after they have been munched on.
Don’t Worry- It Won’t Hurt the Aesthetics of the Garden
Some people may be concerned that an unappealing shrub alongside their garden may cause the garden to look less appealing as well. But, there are some beautiful shrubs that are bitter for cows to eat.
A lot of the time, these shrubs will add depth, color, and dimension to your garden in a very pleasing way.
With so many different shrubs to choose from you are bound to find one (or a mix of a couple) that you find aesthetically pleasing. Try to find shrubs that go with the looks of your garden as is, or opt for something completely different to shake up your routine a bit.
You have the option of sticking with a single shrub along the fence, or you can mix and match to create a more vibrant scenery. Remember that the shrubs should not be placed directly against the fence where cows can reach them. Instead, keep them a good distance from the fence so that it acts as a deterrent and not a potential snack.
What plants don’t cows eat?
There are many plants that most cattle won’t eat. These plants are generally poisonous or taste bitter to a cow’s palate. Cows can pass down the knowledge of which plants are poisonous to calves. However, you may have an individual calf, bull, or cow that is willing to try anything. Calves are especially prone to trying new foods. Occasionally, a cow will get sick or die from trying a poisonous plant. After that, the herd generally avoided that plant species.
If you want to cultivate plants that cows won’t eat, I’d focus on native plants for your area. The cows are more likely to know to avoid them than if you cultivate a non-native plant that the cattle aren’t familiar with. I’ve talked to a few farmers who swear that cows pass the knowledge of what plants are edible to the calves, although no one knows how.
So while the following list isn’t a complete list, it also isn’t 100% effective. That is, most cattle will usually avoid these plants.
What plants don’t cows eat? Cows will usually avoid Wax Mallow, West Indian Shrub Verbena, Winged Simac, Mapleleaf Viburnum, Wax Myrtle, Yaupon. Many cattle won’t eat peonies, daylilies, Shasta daisies, or bee balm. Salvia, Oleander, Pyracantha, and Azalea are not usually tasty to cattle.
Table: Plants that Cows Don’t Eat
|Plants Cows Avoid (common name)||Scientific or Botanical Name||Native Areas||Why Cows Avoid This Plant|
|Malvaviscus arboreus||Southeastern USA, Texas, Mexico, Central and South America||Unknown, it’s not considered poisonous|
|West Indian Shrubverben,
|Lantana uticoides||Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Mexico (especially along the coast)||Very aromatic|
|Winged Sumac, Flameleaf Sumac, Shining Sumac, Dwarf Sumac||Rhus copallinum||East and South-North America (New York south to Florida and west to Texas)||Highly Toxic (except for young leaves)|
|Mapleleaf Viburnum, Mapleleaf Arrowwood, Dockmackie||Viburnum acerifolium||East and Central United States, particularly New England||Extremely bitter|
|Wax Myrtle, Bay Berry, Candleberry, Tallow Shrub||Myrica cerifera||Southeastern United States (New Jersey to Florida to Texas)||Allergen, Strong flavor|
|Yaupon, Nana cultivator, Will Fleming Holly, Evergreen Holly, Indian Black Drink, Cassena, Christmas Berry, Cassine||Llex vomitoria||Eastern United States||Mildly poisonous, Bitter|
|Peonies (whole family)||Paeoniaceae||Asia, Europe, Western United States||Poisonous|
|Daylilies (Dutch daylily, Orange daylily, Tawnie daylily, etc)||Hemerocallis||Asia||Poisonous|
|Shasta Daisies, Becky Daisy||Leucanthemum superbum||Hybrid- not native anywhere||Poisonous|
|Bee Balm, Wild Bergamot, Eastern Bergamot, Horsemint, Oswego Tea||Monarda fistulosa||North America||Bitter taste|
|Mint, Sage, Mexican bush sage,||Salvia (family of plants)||North America, Central and South America||Strong flavor|
|Oleander, Rosebay bush,||Nerium oleander,||Africa, Eastern Mediterranium,||Bitter Taste|
|Firethorn, Taxonomic Tree,||Pyracantha||Asia, Europe||Believed to be Poisonous|
|Azalea, Rose of Sharon,||Rhododendron||Asia, Pacific Northwest, Northeastern United States||Poisonous|
In addition to the plants listed above, I’ve heard that others are often avoided by cattle, although I’ve struggled to verify each of them. For your information the following plants may also be avoided by cattle: agave sisalana, alstonia scholaris, alyssum, angelonia, browallia, butea monosperma, celosia, coleus, euphorbia, geranium, heliotrope, marigolds, mercardonia, melampodium, nicotiana, phoenix sylvestris, plumeria, and sugar apple.
4. Make Sure the Cows Have Enough Food
This isn’t to say that you’re not feeding your cows correctly; there’s probably nothing wrong with the way you are currently feeding them. But cattle can take in mass amounts of food at a time. Having enough readily available is a key part of ensuring they keep their mouths off of your plants.
When it comes to inside the fence, always ensure that there is enough food available for the cows. This means that grass should be kept up and ready for the picking, and hay, corn, and other cow favorites are in good stock.
Having enough food will keep the cows busy and occupied without wondering what’s on the other side of the fence. This will result in less intrusions from the cows, so your garden can grow big and healthy.
5. Consider a Cattle Dog
Also referred to as ‘herding breeds’, a cattle dog is a simple, cost-effective, and overall fun way to keep cows away from your plants.
Cattle dogs were born with an instinct to control animals. They are also very easy to train, so training your pet how to work for you is a breeze.
While it’s a natural instinct to control animals, you can also help to provide the training to your dog necessary for running the cattle out of the garden.
Some of the best herding breeds include the following:
- Australian Cattle Dog. When you hear of a cattle dog, you likely think of this particular breed. Typically around 40 pounds and 19 inches long, the compact and muscular dog is an excellent herder and extremely intelligent. They are also called ‘Blue Heelers’ and ‘Queensland Heelers’, and they are related to the Australian Dingos.
- Australian Shepherd. This type of shepherd is typically around 55 pounds and 20 inches long. They’re known for being great ‘ranch dogs’ and will likely be in the company of cowboys, as they enjoy the lifestyle thoroughly.
- Border Collie. This wonderful herding breed is known to be one of the top workaholics with amazing intelligence. They are smart and energetic, but can also be very cuddly and affectionate after a hard workday.
- Collie. Everyone knows the beloved and majestic Collie thanks to their time in the movies. But Collie’s can do more than movie-making; they are also devoted to their owners and easy to train, making them a great choice for garden-watching.
- German Shepherd Dog. This herding breed is said to be the finest worker of all the herders, and their high intelligence, confidence, and courageous attitude make them a top pick for guarding plants against cows. Weighing in at 70 pounds and 25 inches long, they’re a big group of dogs that are strong, noble, and proud.
- Old English Sheepdog. If you have ever seen an Old English Sheepdog you would never forget them. These adorable shaggy dogs with infamous hairdos are typically up to 100 pounds and around 21 inches long. They’re stocky bodies and bear-like gait are appealing, much like their gentle and smart attitudes.
- Pembroke Welsh Corgi. This is a smaller breed in the herding division, but still smart and effective nonetheless. They have lively attitudes with strong and athletic bodies, typically weighing only up to 30 pounds and 12 inches long. They are active herders that can get the job done, and don’t require an excessive amount of attention.
- Shetland Sheepdog. Another smaller watchdog, the Shetland Sheepdog is only around 30 pounds and 14 inches long. They’re quick and intelligent, making them obedient and active herders that can quickly and easily handle any cows that come their way.
Is a Herding Dog Right for Me?
While cattle dogs (herding dogs) can be an effective way to keep cows out of the garden, it doesn’t mean they are the right choice for everyone. There are a lot of things to consider before making a final decision.
Cost to care for the dog.
Like everything else in life, a dog will require you to spend a certain amount of money. You may initially need to pay for the dog and get a certificate to own him. You will also have other things to pay for the dog including food, trips to the vet if needed, and specific things he may need like a leash, a favorite bone, or special brushes for grooming.
Time to train and bond with it
A lot of herding dogs are independent and won’t require too much of your time. In fact, a good percentage of the herding breed will not like to be bothered during the workday.
Dogs like this are better off with some affection at night after the day is done, and they’re likely going to want to cuddle up.
However, some herding dogs require more attention than others. The more independent breeds will only need a small amount of affection and love from their owners (mostly at night), but less independent herding dogs will want affection throughout the day.
Before you choose a cattle dog make sure you know the level of affection they crave. If you’re up to the challenge, consider getting a passionate dog that will be loyal and loving. If you prefer a more independent working breed, seek out that type of dog specifically.
If you’re getting a herding dog to help care for your cows and keeping them away from your garden, you likely have enough room for a herding dog. However, if you are in a smaller area where there isn’t a whole lot of space aside from a few cattle and a small garden, it may not be in your best interest.
Cattle dogs are active, energetic breeds that require a lot of space to keep them occupied. Being cooped up in a smaller environment can cause these dogs a lot of distress and depression as their pent up energy isn’t being used.
If you have a smaller area, you might want to consider choosing a herding dog that is smaller in size, such as a Corgi. For wide-open spaces, German Shepherds are a great choice, as well as any other medium to large sized herder.
The amount of training necessary.
A herding dog can sometimes come off as aggressive, as they try and ‘herd’ their owners. This will cause a little bit of nipping and biting, and you will need to set aside time to train the dog to stop doing this.
You will also need to consider the training time necessary to train the dog to keep the cows away from the garden. A lot of time will be needed in order to do this, and you should be patient and persistent with the dog.
The good thing about herding dogs is they learn fairly quickly. However, it won’t happen in an instant. If you do not have the time and energy to train the dog, you should not consider getting one. They may have some instinct already but they will need to be trained to specifically keep cows away from the garden.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do Cows Eat Plants? A cow’s natural diet consists of grass, clover, flowers, and other forage plants. Cows eat weeds, silage, stems, and husks. They can even digest bark and the coarse outer shells indigestible for many other animals. The cow’s unique rumen stomach can extract nutrients out of many plant parts that human digestive tracts cannot extract. Their ruminant system makes cows more suitable to eat more parts of a plant than many other animals.
What Plants Don’t Cattle Eat in India? India has several native plants that cattle usually avoid eating including Peonies, Daylilies, Shasta Dasies, Oleander, Firethorn, Taxomic Tree, Temple Tree, Chandi, Madar, Manokamini, Azaleas, and Kaner. Many of these plants are poisonous to cattle, but others simply taste bitter.
In some cases, cattle will still taste and may even eat these plants, especially if they are unfamiliar with them. But, for the most part, the cows will leave them alone. It’s important to chose plants, bushes, and trees that are native to your specific region. This will help cows near you know better what to avoid.
What Hedges Don’t Cows Eat? Common hedges that cows tend to avoid eating include Wax mallow, Winged Sumac, Mapleleaf Viburnum, Dwarf Sumac (not flower), Wax Myrtle(notflower) Yaupon, Peonie(lowhedge), Daylilies (low) Shasta Daisies, Oleander, Firethorn, Azalea
What Flowers Won’t Cows Eat? Flowers that Cows usually avoid eating include Sleeping Hibiscus, Texas lantana, Mapleleaf Viburnum, Yaupon, Peonies, Daylilies, Shasta daisies, Oleander, Firethorn, and Azaleas. Cattle will often also avoid alyssum, angelonia, browallia, butea monosperma, celosia, euphoria, heliotrope, mercardonia, melampodium, nicotiana, and plumeria.
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