What’s The Difference Between an Ox and a Cow?

The term cattle refers to group of massive domesticated animals bred and raised for their meat, milk, or labor. Cows and oxen are two of the most common cattle animals, both belonging to the same family, Bos Taurus.

As such, there are several commonalities between the two animals such as they all have cloven hooves, look mostly the same, have comparable sizes and even eat the same food.

But then what’s the difference between an ox and a cow, you ask? To answer your question, this article will take you through 9 major differences between an ox and a cow.

What’s the Difference between an Ox and a Cow?

What's The Difference Between an Ox and a Cow

1. The Two Have Slightly Different Origins

Bulls and cows have been around for about 10,000 years. It is believed that they have descended from a species of wild beats known as Aurochs. According to studies, Aurochs would typically grow up to be nearly two times the size of today’s bulls and cows.

The Ancient dwellers in Europe and Asia back then domesticated the Aurochs. Over time, these practices of domestication and natural selection resulted in wild beasts becoming more docile and tamer.

However, due to a change in their habitat and excessive hunting consequential of rising human population and development, Aurochs went extinct with them being last seen during the early 1600s.

While oxen are genetically related to cows and bulls, their origin is slightly different. In fact, Oxen are essentially bulls that have been castrated. The primary purpose of the neutering process is to make them more compliant and tamable.

The first herd of oxen is thought to have appeared around 4000 BC. In the past, these wild animals roamed freely across North America and Europe. However, they are no longer found in these areas.

In certain regions of Asia and Africa, you can still find wild oxen, however, there are no wild oxen breeds in Australia or South America. Nevertheless, domestic oxen may still be found in areas where wild oxen are not present.

2. Cows and Oxen are Bred for Different Purposes

Cows are primarily kept for two reasons that are for breeding and milk. Female calves are known as heifers during their first two years during which they do not produce milk nor do they birth a calve.

The heifer grows into a cow only when it becomes ready to produce milk and birth calves. Cows stop calving and giving milk after ten years on average. Once this stage is reached and the cows no longer produce milk or birth calves, they are slaughtered for meat. Additionally, their hides are used to manufacture leather.

The majority of bulls (male cows) are raised for their hides and beef. Some people also keep bulls for breeding purposes instead of slaughtering them for meat. In a single breeding season, one bull can impregnate up to 30 cows. As a result, only a few bulls are required for breeding.

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On the contrary, oxen are mostly kept as farm animal as their strength and muscularity makes them excellent labors. Usually, you’ll find them pulling carts, ploughs, and some other machinery used for fertilizing or watering the field. When an ox is no longer needed for labor, perhaps due to old age, they can be slaughtered for beef.

What's The Difference Between an Ox and a Cow

3. Oxen and Cows Also Differ in Visual Attributes

When it comes to size, a cow is much smaller than an ox. In addition, an ox will also be heavier and more muscular than cows. As a matter of fact, an ox will be even bigger and stronger than a bull due to its breeding, despite the fact that it has lost its ability to produce essential hormones due to neutering.

Despite the fact that oxen are larger than bulls, they are usually not as hefty. Bulls have more lean meat and are heavier than oxen.

However, it is important to remember that none of these creatures are small by any means. On average, cows can grow up to weigh about 1,760 pounds and oxen up to 2,200 pounds. Both animals are nearly 5ft tall at the shoulders and can grow to be between 5ft to 9ft long.

The reason why oxen are larger and more muscular is that they are bred to be used for hard labor work and so being the large and strong is a necessary requirement for these working animals. This is, however, not the case for cows.

One simple way to tell apart cows from oxen is by glancing at their hind legs. Cows will have udders on their rear flanks while oxen will not have udders, or scrotums for that matter, since they will have been castrated.

4. Oxen are Less Aggressive Than Cows

It is common knowledge that bulls are aggressive animals as often demonstrated in rodeos and bullfights. However, the fact that cows can be just as aggressive, or even more in certain cases, may come as a surprise to you.

This aggression and hot-temperedness are typically displayed by cows piercing their prey with their horns. Those that do not have horns attack by kicking, blunting, or ramming their prey.

Oxen, on the other hand, are more docile and have lower levels of hostility. The calmer disposition of oxen is largely due to their castration.

5. Oxen Are More Expensive Than Cows

Cows are less expensive than bulls, while bulls, in turn, are less expensive than oxen on average.

A yearling calf, that is to be used for dairy, usually costs between $450 to $600, whereas beef yearlings are priced between $650 to $750 for each calf. Calves get more expensive as they become older, based on how heavy they become.

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Seeing as how cows are primarily used for dairy purposes, therefore, their starting price is on par with that of dairy yearlings. A full-grown dairy cow can cost you anywhere from $900 to $3000.

Bulls are typically kept for beef and breeding. As such, the cost of bulls is comparable to that of beef yearlings. A mature bull can cost anything from $3000 to $5000.

Oxen are generally even more expensive than bulls and are sold throughout the United States. This price disparity is due in part to the additional time, costs, and resources that are required to turn bulls into oxen by castrating them.

Oxen’s comparatively low availability may also partly contribute to its relatively expensive price.

6. Cows Are the Only Cattle That Produce Milk

Seeing as how oxen and bulls are males, it is no surprise that they do not produce milk and that cows are the only cattle animals that produce milk. The taste of cow milk can be influenced by a variety of factors which include:

  • The farm environment
  • The type of feed the cows eat
  • The quality of water the cows drink
  • What breed of cows are being used
  • The number and frequency of lactations
  • The health of the cows
learn what's The Difference Between an Ox and a Cow

7. Cows Can Breed While Oxen Cannot

As mentioned before, to form an ox, you have to castrate a bull and with this, the animal is deprived of its ability to reproduce and, therefore, oxen cannot breed even when they mate with another cow.

On the other hand, cows can reproduce and that, is in fact, one of the primary purposes they are used for on farms.

8. Oxen Are Sometimes Shod but Cows Are Not

Shod refers to fitting shoes on the hoofs of animals such as horses. Knowing how cows spend most of their lives in enclosed farm areas, barns, or pastures, there is no reason or need for cows to be shod.

In contrast, oxen are used for hard labor work and, as such, have to traverse through rocky, muddy, and all kinds of other tricky and treacherous terrains. Therefore, some farmers fit the hooves of their oxen with shoes that help protect the hooves of the animal and also serve to provide enhanced traction and balance in the field.

Oxen have cloven hooves, meaning that they are split in the middle and so each hoof of a oxen has to be fitted with two shoes. Additionally, cattle animals such as oxen, bulls, and cows cannot stand on three feet due to their bulky bodies. As a result, supports are required to hold an ox up when fitting its hooves with shoes.

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9. Oxen Might Be Smarter Than Cows

Since oxen are used to assist farmers with their farm work such as plowing a field, most farmers invest years into training their oxen to become more intelligent. Oxen, much like dogs, have demonstrated the ability to learn hand signals and commands in order to fulfil the tasks at hand. If this has proved one thing, it is that oxen have sufficient cognitive abilities required to learn and obey commands and signals.

On the other hand, cows spend their years mindlessly grazing fields and pastures and are never taught anything. As a result, it is uncertain as to how they compare to oxen in terms of cognitive abilities and intellect.

Top 5 Animal Terms KIDS get CONFUSED with | Bull, Buffalo, Cow, Ox & Bullock | Difference | Definitions

Differences between Bull, Buffalo, Cow, Ox & Bullock. These are five common animal terms which kids and even adults get confused with. Cows and bulls are the males and females of the same species, Bos taurus.

Young ones are called calves. All members of this species can be collectively called cattle. Any working cattle/draught/draft animal are called oxen or bullock. Ox is singular & oxen is plural.

Bullock also means a young bull in North America. However, in India, Australia and New Zealand, a bullock means an ox. Buffalo is a different species or rather genera. There are males and females in buffaloes too.


With the help of the 9 main differences between cows and oxen outlined above, the common question that many animal lovers have, that is “What’s The Difference Between an Ox and a Cow?” is now hopefully answered.

If you still have some doubts, the YouTube video linked just above should help clear things up.

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