Among the most popular questions I believe that each and every individual wanting to begin in raising cattle or even know anything about cattle and cows will ask is,”What do they eat??” The answer to this question is not straightforward as you might think: What they eat doesn’t just begin and end with grass or hay or grain or a combination of all three! What about the “why? ” Why do cattle eat or need to eat hay or marijuana? What is so special about grass and hay that it must be the absolute or most common reply to the what-do-they-eat question?
This means that cows are ruminants, or creatures that have their stomach divided into four chambers, the largest being the rumen. Other chambers would be the Reticulum, the Omasum, as well as the Abomasum. The rumen is capable of holding up to 50 gallons of digesta (that is fluids, solids, Wildlife Removal New York City NYC and even gases), and having a large healthier population of countless microflora to help break down the forages that a cow eats. Ruminants also chew cud, which is partially digested plant matter regurgitated up from the rumen and reticulum. Cows do not chew the feed or grass they eat when they clamp down on it–they bite then swallow, often without chewing much. When they rest, they burp or regurgitate it back up to break it down further.
The clincher to the ability of a cow to survive–let alone thrive–on roughage like grass and legumes is the bacteria or microflora that live inside the cow’s rumen. There are mainly two types of bacteria that exist in the rumen: fibre microbes and starch microbes. The fiber microbes are the most important to a bovine’s digestive system because of their ability to break down and digest fibre in a cow’s diet, regardless of what she eats, which is their main function. Starch microbes are more for every time a bovine is consuming grain like corn which contain a great deal of starch, and their main function is to break down the starch in the grains, more so than the roughage fiber that comes with these”hot” rations. Unless an animal is on a finishing diet, most cows will have a larger population of fiber microbes in their rumen due to their high forage diets.
Determined by an anaerobic environment, they have a life-span of 15 minutes and thus have a enormous turn-over rate. The dead germs provide the cow much of her protein needs along with the protein in the plant sources that by-pass the rumen. End products of the digestive process (including the synthesization of protein and B vitamins) contain volatile fatty acids (VFAs), which provide an energy source for the cow. Yet he microbes themselves cannot fully operate and live on plant fibre alone. Their nutritional requirements are extremely similar to the nutrition needs of the animal they live in. They also require water, energy, protein, minerals and vitamins from the plants and nutritional supplements that the cow receives on a daily basis in order to function and maintain producing subsequent generations of germs.
There’s a reason why a cow will literally starve to death on a diet too high in fibre and also low in protein. A cow’s stomach only has so much room to maintain digesta in, so the more poor feedstuffs she eats the fuller her belly will be and the less she’ll eat. All that feed she is eating will only stay in her tummy for a long time period or until she gets an adequate- to supplement. When that occurs, then the poor excellent feed will undergo her system much quicker and she’ll be able to consume more of that poor feed more often. All because those teeny-tiny living organisms just need a boost of protein to help digest all that roughage!
Thus a cow’s ability to be”feed efficient” is determined by the microbes in her rumen. The greater the microbial population in her rumen, the more forage can be utilized and digested efficiently. The higher the protein content in the forage or supplied by supplements, the more the cow will consume and the higher the microbial population. The higher the microbial population, the more protein and VFAs the cow is going to receive. Put that all together and she’ll gain weight!
A cow’s ability to eat what she eats also has a lot to do with her mouth. Like all ruminant animals, cows deficiency upper front incisors, even though they do have upper molars for chewing and grinding. Her lower front incisors are flat and curved out so she can grasp grass simpler. She’s a powerful tongue which is used to wrap around a sward of grass, pull it in her mouth and tear it out of its stems. She chews very briefly, then swallows. When she is resting, she will regurgitate it back up and rechew it over again. A cow will produce 200 litres of saliva per day–this is so that she could more easily swallow and digest the forage she eats, and offers an ideal environment for the rumen microbes.
Cows can eat what they eat–being hay and grass, among other fodder–because of their four-chambered stomachs, the structure of their teeth and mouths, and most of all, the microbes that reside in their rumen. Rumen microbes are the most important as they’re responsible for breaking down fiber from the plant material that the cow eats. Without them, she would never be able to eat as rough a plant as grass without some amount of detrimental affect to her body and her life.