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What Do Cows Eat?

What Do Cows Eat?

Have you ever thought, what went into that piece of steak that winds up on your lunch table? Grass is a dietary staple for cows, but what else do they eat? Read on to know more.
Ashmeet Bagga
Last Updated: Mar 13, 2019
Cows are Ruminants!
Cows have the ability regurgitate food, called cud, to chew it some more until it is completely digested.
Cows are herbivores with four digestive systems in their stomach, to help them digest tough food. They are two-toed or cloven hooved, horned or hornless depending on the breed. and are mostly found in the tropical, and sub-tropical parts of the world except New Zealand and Australia. They are basically domesticated for milk, beef, and transportation.
Cows thrive on plants, and unlike other animals, they don't have upper front teeth rather a tough dental pad on the top. After a cow is chomping on grass, it has the ability to bring back the grass from the stomach to their mouth to re-chew it. They re-chew it with their strong molars to break it down for easy digestion.
Cows are known as our foster mothers as they bring forth large quantities of milk that is fit for human consumption. They primarily eat grass, but they feed on other things too, which helps to give good quality milk, and fatten them up for superior quality beef.
What Do Dairy Cows Eat?
Dairy cows require lot of nutrition and energy to produce delicious and healthy milk for our consumption. Hence, farmers provide them with a healthy and balanced diet.
✦ Cows eat a mixture of food which includes grass silage, hay, alfalfa hay, grains, and let's not forget corn. Ensure that food for cows will be available all yearlong, grass and alfalfa are dried to make hay. This makes it easier for farmers to stock up on hay, especially during winters.
Cows even like to eat silage, while hay is generally dry, silage is usually moist. Silage goes through a fermentation process, which adds extra nutrients. To make corn silage, farmers utilize each and every part of corn, including its cob and husk.
Just like humans, even cows need added minerals and vitamins, grains which comprises barley, oats, and corn, plus the added minerals and vitamins mixed into their feed, to ensure healthy growth.

On an average, a cow consumes more than 100 pounds of food everyday. Sometimes, farmers work with nutritionists to ensure that their cow has a healthy diet.
Cows are also picky about their food, so to ensure that they don't skip any particular food item, farmers use a trick known as Total Mixed Ratio or TMR. All dairies have their own different recipes for mixing, and it also depends on the cow's growth stage.
But, typically, a TMR consists of cottonseed, energy nugget, alfalfa hay, pelleted soybean hulls, wet gluten, straw and dried distillers grains. These food items are full of proteins, calcium, and vitamins. It is specially beneficial for lactating cows.
✦ Apart from the aforementioned food, they also feed on cereal grains, forages, barley, and molasses.

Water is absolutely essential for dairy cows, there should be a provision of fresh clean water all the time. Cows that are producing large quantities of milk can gulp down at least 25 gallons of water per day.
What Do Beef Cows Eat?
There is hardly any difference in the dietary habits of a dairy cow and a beef cow, apart from the fact, that beef cows are bred for a different purpose. They primarily eat pasture throughout their lives, but in the winters, they eat silage and hay.
Most of the beef cattle feed on fresh grass. They also consume legumes such as clover, trefoil, sainfoin, lespedeza. Grasses that they thrive on include wheat grass, fescue, orchard grass, bromegrass, and timothy.
Some cows are fed sweet treats, especially those who have to gain weight, are growing, and the ones which are to be slaughtered. Oats, sorghum, barley, insalage, cracked corn are other items fed to cows.
Water, although not a nutrient, is still essential for them to regulate body temperature, growth, lactation, hydration. An animal won't die from lack of nutrients, but definitely through dehydration.
Lentil, pea, chickpea straw, slough hay, grass hay, clover silage are other food items that beef cows eat. A beef cow will eat at least 2% to 2.5% of its body weight per day.
Roughage are indigestible components that are heavy, but provides less energy, but they are relatively high in fiber. Grains such as corn, barley, and milo are less in fiber but high in energy. Cows are fed more grain items when they grow older, this helps to beef them up.
Oilseed like soybeans, canola meal are highly required in their diet. They not only provide fiber, but are filled with essential proteins and energy.
Many by-products that are left-over ingredients from food production for humans can be a meal for a cow. By-products includes candy waste, bakery waste, beet pulp, cotton seeds, citrus pulp, brewers grains, and corn gluten feed. Corn, candy, and bakery waste should be fed in minimum due to its high sugar content.
Many cows in factory farms are fed supplements to provide them with adequate vitamins and minerals. Some are even fed fish to make their flesh rich with omega-3. Cows have a varied diet and eat a variety of foods and different kinds of grass.