In most respects, there are no major differences between oxen and cows. The main difference is that oxen are male bovine used for working purposes, whereas cows are female bovine used for milking and beef purposes.

Since the main difference between oxen and cows lies in their working purposes, it is relatively easy to decide on which animal to get. Simply determine your intended job for the animal and go from there. To learn more about the difference between an ox and a cow, keep reading.

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Visual Differences

Ox vs Cow - Visual Differences
Image Credit: Left – blende12, Pixabay | Right – BorgMattisson, Pixabay

At a Glance

  • Origin: Sussex
  • Size: 2,000 lbs
  • Lifespan: 15–20 years
  • Domesticated?: Yes
  • Origin: Wild aurochs in France
  • Size: 1,400 lbs
  • Lifespan: 20 years
  • Domesticated?: Yes
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Oxen Overview

Limousin cow drinking water from creek
Image Credit: christels, Pixabay

When most people imagine an ox, they assume that it is an entirely different animal from a cow, though similar. This is simply not the case. Oxen are bovine, just like cows. The main difference lies in their function on the farm.

Unlike cows, oxen are typically adult males with muscular builds. They are specifically trained for work on the farm, like pulling, mashing, and pushing. As a result, oxen are almost always muscular and intelligent male bovine.

Characteristics & Appearance

Even though all bovines are large, oxen tend to be incredibly big and muscular. Their muscular build is required so that they can do physical labor on the farm. Often, oxen are over the age of four years old. Their age is because oxen are specifically trained to respond to the farmer’s commands and signals.

With this in mind, oxen look a bit like meatheads in that they are super muscular and strong, but they are intelligent too. The mixture between their intelligence and their muscles makes them perfect for heavy-duty jobs for which they are required.

Retinta Cattle Close Up
Image Credit: Gena Melendrez, Shutterstock


The main difference between an ox and a cow is in its job. Oxen are specifically trained cattle that are used as draft animals. For example, oxen are often used to plow, haul cargo, power machines, grind, and transport other items. Oxen are typically worked in pairs for maximum power.

This heavy job explains why oxen tend to be so large and male. The larger the ox is, the more suitable it is to perform various jobs.

Today, the job of the oxen has been replaced by mechanical tools in first world countries. In developing countries, oxen are still the primary source for heavy lifting jobs and pulling on the farm.hoof print divider

Cows Overview

cow lying on the grass
Image Credit: Piqsels

In many ways, cows are the lazy cousin of oxen. They belong to the bovine group as well, but they are almost always female, smaller, and used for other jobs. Even though some females can be oxen, no males are cows. Males that are not oxen are referred to as bulls.

Characteristics & Appearance

Cows are notably smaller than oxen for two reasons. For starters, cows are usually females, which are generally smaller than males. Additionally, cows are not used for heavy work, which means they don’t need major muscles like oxen.

Still, cows come in many sizes. Because there are so many species of cows, cows can come in a variety of colors, patterns, and sizes.

charolais cow
Image Credit: Liga Gabrane, Shutterstock


Nearly all cows are only used for milking or beef purposes. That’s because cows are not large enough or smart enough for draft purposes. The only cows that are used for draft purposes are extremely large breeds, but female draft workers are rare.

Cows are used all over the world for food purposes. Many developing nations keep cows in small farms for family or community use. In comparison, large nations like the United States have major farm facilities dedicated to tons of cows for mass production.

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What Are the Differences Between Oxen and Cows?

The differences between an ox and a cow can be summarized in four points: job, gender, size, and intelligence.


Job is the primary difference between oxen and cows. Whereas cows are used for food purposes, oxen are used for working purposes. These different jobs explain why cows are often smaller and less muscular than their oxen counterparts.


Likewise, the job of the animal explains why oxen are almost always male and cows are always female. Oxen need to be as large and muscular as possible and are males as a result. Cows are always female, whereas non-working male bovine are bulls.

Two Cow
Image Credit: PhotoMIX-Company, Pixabay


Oxen are notably larger than cows. Their large stature makes them better suited for their heavy lifting jobs. The required size of the ox further explains why most are males. More so, oxen are almost always selected from the largest species of cattle for further size.


Most farmers spend years building up the intelligence of their oxen. Much like dogs, oxen learn hand signals and commands so that they can perform the work required. Cows, in contrast, are often left to graze on their own and are never taught any commands.

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Which Is Right For You?

Whether you should get a cow or an ox depends entirely on your intended use of the animal. If you want bovine for food purposes, you should get a cow. Cows can be used for milk or beef. In comparison, you should get an ox if you need a working bovine.

That being said, most oxen today are replaced with technology and mechanical tools. Advanced tools are more accurate and effective than oxen. If you want the most effective way to run your farm, get modern tools instead, though oxen still have their place in developing farms and historical farms.

Unlike oxen, cows have not been replaced by advanced technologies. If you want a reliable way to get milk and beef, cows are your only choice.

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Featured Image Credit: Top – Ox (danielkirsch, Pixabay); Bottom – Cow (Couleur, Pixabay)