Dungeons & Dragons, House Rules

How Many Cows Are There, Really?

Changing Pasture by Anton Mauve

Occasionally I find myself slipping off into a bit of minutia when it comes to the worlds I’m playing with in my home games. This morning was just such an occasion.

I had been working on a scene my players would be encountering in the countryside when I noted that there was a cattle pasture on the north side of the road. My wife asked, “What kind of cows?”

What kind, indeed.

Texas Longhorn bull image from the Texas Longhorn Breeder’s Association of America

According to Wikipedia there are more than a 1,000 recognized breeds of cattle in the world. This gets divided up by the type of cattle you’re planning on using as “Beef,” “Dairy,” or “Dual-Breed” cows – the three types that are breed for very different lifestyles.[1] There are multiple spotted, long hair, short hair, and single color varieties. There are kinds with humps, with pointed horns, rolled horns, long horns, and even short, stubby horns.

So what kind do you say when someone asks that question?

A Devon Bull, image by Mark Robinson

Personally I tend to identify the cattle in my games as either Devon, the Texas Longhorn, or the Holstein. These breeds were fairly common when I was growing up, though the Devon is less so now, so it’s easier for me to recall their look, sound, and even smell when I’m put on the spot.

Holstein cow image from Morning Ag Clips

I included the pictures above so that if you have to make a quick call out that you might be able to use one of them as well for your own home games. If you’re looking for other varieties I highly recommend checking out The Cattle Site. It not only has a fantastic “Knowledge Center” where you can explore different breeds but it provides a great glimpse into what concerns modern cattle farmers.


[1] It should be recognized that you certainly can eat a “Dairy” cow and you can milk a “Beef” cow but that the different varieties have been cultivated to provide the best product for the farmer. Dairy cows produce more, and better tasting, milk as they’ve been selectively bred for that purpose. Beef cows taste better and have better marbling in their flesh than their Dairy brethren. Dual Breeds, by contrast, are neither the best tasting nor the best at producing the most, and tastiest, milk; however, they are fully capable of producing an enjoyable milk and a decent steak.


10 thoughts on “How Many Cows Are There, Really?”

  1. Lot of cows out in my neck of the woods…once you drive outside the city anyway. Holsteins, for the most part. Since my games tend to be in-person and local, I generally assume players have the same visual image as myself.

    But I can see how NOT starting with such assumptions might be interesting.

    That being said, my campaign world is based mostly on my locale as well (Washington State) so not sure why it would be terribly useful/necessary to have longhorns or long-hair cattle. The Holsteins DO seem to thrive in this particular climate.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. According to The Cattle site the longhorns are considered the closest thing to a native species of North American cow that we have. They arrived roughly 500 years ago and have adapted to the climate better than any other breed. They’re also heartier than the Holstein.

      That said, did you know that inbreeding is such a problem for Holsteins that they actually have a calculator for how inbred the cow is on the Holstein Association website?

      Crazy stuff you learn when going down a rabbit hole for D&D


  2. Longhorns are a good cow, me and my wife have a few mixed into our gene pool at our ranch. They can eat browse and don’t get dehydrated too quick. But they only throw calves on their schedule 😂. Never seen a Devon before though! Pretty animal.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. there are so many random generators out there, and now I am wanting a “random cow herd” generator that tells the type and quantity of cows!

    yeah, funny the things that come up.

    now to dig into that site and see if I can come up with a random cow herd table 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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