Cows thrive best in temperate climates and open grasslands. They are descended from wild animals that once roamed North Africa, Europe, and South Asia, and they are adapted to life in regions with a similar climate. Some breeds, such as Highland cattle, are bred for colder temperatures, but cows tend to prefer warmer climates.
Traditional farms that raise cows are called dairy farms or cattle ranches depending on whether they specialize in raising cattle for milk or beef. Traditional ranches are large tracts of land with plentiful open pastures, and they are the popular image of a cow habitat.
It must be noted that most cows alive today live not on the open field but in feedlots. A feedlot is a mechanized agricultural innovation. It includes small areas of bare ground fenced off by metal bars with the cow's feed in a trough immediately in front of it. This is an unnatural arrangement for the animals, but this living arrangement is driven by economics. A cow in a feedlot has its nutrition closely monitored, and the food is designed scientifically to make it rapidly gain weight. The majority of dairy cows live in similar arrangements, but the emphasis is given to milk production and not weight gain.