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I had been keeping four cows in a shallow pit two blocks deep, four wide, and ten long, open to the sky, but surrounded by fences (the idea being to let me in without allowing them to wander out through the fence gate). I left them for an extended deep digging session.

On my return I find I have only one cow remaining. While staring disconsolately at my now-defunct leather farm, I noticed that a) the remaining cow eats grass from time to time (like a sheep), and b) most of the floor is actually stone, not grass, so there isn't much available.

I have sheep and chickens in identical adjacent pens. They appear to be fine (no losses). The sheep did have more grass.

I am wondering if my other cows might have starved to death, or succumbed somehow to overcrowding. Is that possible? If not, how else might they have disappeared?

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I love the little stories that seem to get told when people ask Minecraft questions. "While staring disconsolately at my now-defunct leather farm" - awww, it made me smile but I felt bad for you :D –  Lyrical Aug 13 '13 at 11:10
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On Bukkit, Minecraft 1.5, I have had cows jump fences which are one (one and a half) tall. one and a half should be too tall to jump over, however, It seems that one cow would step on top of another and thus get over the fence. Making the fence 2 tall (two and a half) worked for me to prevent escape. Using fences would also prevent the suffocation glitch. I have noticed that sometimes the cow would get caught in the fence in my solution, but would not suffocate. I have no experience in suffocation glitches except with teleporting dogs. –  musicwithoutpaper Aug 13 '13 at 12:09
    
@musicwithoutpaper - Very interesting. I hadn't considered that cows might climb on one another. –  ire_and_curses Aug 13 '13 at 23:02
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2 Answers

up vote 16 down vote accepted

No. Cows and other animals cannot starve to death. It's possible that some of them glitched into a wall and suffocated, but besides that, I can think of no other possible explanations.

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Is there a reason cows might glitch, but not sheep? Is there any possibility that mobs or maybe lightning could kill three cows? –  ire_and_curses Aug 13 '13 at 19:24
    
@ire_and_curses If the pens were identical, then the only explanation that I can offer for the Sheep's survival is magic. Or possibly some sort of chunk mechanics somewhere. But more likely, magic. –  Unionhawk Aug 14 '13 at 1:49
    
@ire_and_curses lightning would've left some tasty steak behind. –  Timtech Aug 17 '13 at 15:36
    
@ire_and_curses You said they're in a pit, correct? With solid blocks for walls? If this was the case, then it's very likely that some of them glitched into the wall and died. It'd be bizarre for all of them to do that, but we're dealing with Minecraft mobs here.... –  Unionhawk Aug 17 '13 at 16:43
    
@Timtech - Good to know, although as an item, that could have disappeared, right? –  ire_and_curses Aug 17 '13 at 16:44
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All mobs can't starve to death. Food for passive mobs just allow them to enter "mating mode". When they eat grass this does not make them go into "mate-mode". Some food (for horses) allow you to tame them more easily. What may have possible happened is that a cow may have died from suffocated like UnionHawk said. However passive mobs can also die form the following:

[Cows] also tend to jump off high cliffs and make no attempt to stay out of water. They also can climb ladders in certain conditions.

If you have any ladders to get in or out of your pen the cows may have "jumped the fence". You may have also left the gate open (which I have done several times. It stinks).

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Though, to be clear, they don't enter "mating mode" by eating grass, but require you to manually feed them wheat. –  IQAndreas Aug 13 '13 at 12:44
    
Yes I'm aware of that. –  Young Guilo Aug 13 '13 at 12:56
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Your answer sounds like you are not aware of the distinction. Consider correcting that instead of just replying with a comment and doing nothing. –  SevenSidedDie Aug 13 '13 at 14:06
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I have a ladder down into the pit, but I deliberately left the ladder uncompleted at the bottom block (so I have to jump to get on the ladder). Could a cow climb a ladder like that? Even if it did climb, the fence should have stopped it though, right? –  ire_and_curses Aug 13 '13 at 19:25
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@ire_and_curses Umm cows can jump. Your cows must have climbed up and when they fell they died. The Fence would not have stopped the cows if there was a ladder. –  Young Guilo Aug 13 '13 at 19:37
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