United Dairymen of Arizona News

United Dairymen of Arizona

United Dairymen of Arizona News

What do cows eat?

By Roxy Helman - July 19, 2018

Did you know that cows are natural recyclers and can eat food that would typically end up as waste? Dairy cows thrive on parts of plants that humans can’t eat, even if we wanted to.

In fact, up to 80% of what cows eat can't be digested by humans.

It starts in the stomach

A cow's stomach is divided into 4 compartments.

  • Rumen – This is the first part of the cow’s stomach. It helps break down complex plant products like grass.
  • Reticulum – Here the food mixes with the cow’s saliva and produces cud. Cows burp up the cud into their mouths and chew it to help break it down more. When you see a cow that looks like she is chomping on bubble gum, really she is chewing her cud.
  • Omasum – Here all the water is absorbed out of the food.
  • Abomasum – Here is where the food is finally digested, similar to what happens in a human stomach.

The stop in the reticulum is where the digesting magic happens. When cows chew on their cud it helps to further break down the feed and allows her body to fully digest it.

So what sorts of byproducts do cows eat? 

Almond hulls- Byproduct from the almond industry. The leftover hulls are a good source of fiber.

Cottonseed- Byproduct from the cotton industry. The leftover cottonseed are a good source of fat and protein.

Expired (or ugly) produce- Leftover produce from the grocery store is a great source of sugar.

More examples include used brewer’s grains from brewing beer, sugar beet pulp from making sugar, and some dairies even use candy that would be discarded from the manufacturing plant. (Remember the skittles?)

Cows transform those byproducts into foods that help humans thrive, like milk, cheese and yogurt.

Caring for cows, preserving the planet, and feeding our people... all in a day's work for a dairy farmer.

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