Bovine Eating Habits
Cows are big eaters. Each day, they eat approximately:
|40 lbs of feed and hay
||50 lbs of silage
||25 to 50 gallons of water - nearly a bathtub full!
Ninety pounds of food equals 480 hamburgers. In comparison, the average American eats only about 4 pounds of food a day.
A 4-Part Stomach
Cows have a unique digestive system:
Cows swallow food quickly without chewing it well.
The food goes into the first and second stomachs - the rumen and the reticulum.
When the cow has eaten her fill, she burps up a small amount of food - cud - to chew again.
After chewing her cud thoroughly, she swallows it and it goes into the 3rd stomach - the omasum.
From there it moves on to the 4th stomach - the abomasums where digestion actually occurs.
Cows spend about 6 hours a day eating. A cow's body uses part of the food to grow and stay healthy. Her body uses another part of the food to make milk in the udder.
It takes the cow's body about 2 days to process her food into milk.
Cows as Milk Producers
Cows have been called nature's own milk factory on four hooves.
- All cows are females. Like humans, they cannot produce milk until they give birth.
- Cows usually have their first calf when they are 2 years old. The gestation time for a calf is 9 months. 95 - 97% of the pregnancies result in one calf.
- Cows are usually milked for 305 days (10 months) after giving birth.
- Then they are allowed to "dry off" for about 2 months until their next calf is born.
- To dry off a cow, the farmer stops milking her. This gives her body the cue to stop producing more milk.
- Most cows are milked for about 7 years.
Each well-fed cow produces an average of about:
- 25 pounds (45 cups) of milk in one milking.
- 50 pounds (90 cups) of milk per day.
- 15,000 pounds (28,000 cups) of milk in a year.
- 107,000 pounds (200,000 cups) of milk in a lifetime. That's enough to fill the average classroom 2 feet deep with milk.
If a cow eats only grass, it produces only about 13.3 pounds (24 cups) of milk in one milking. So you can see, good nutrition pays off for cows as well as people.
Cows respond best to patient, kind handling and regular, routine procedures. They are milked 2 or 3 times a day.
First, the cow's udder and teats are washed before she is milked. This is done to:
- Keep the milk clean.
- Send a signal to her brain to "let down" the milk.
Then a milking machine is attached to the cow's 4 teats.
- The milking machine doesn't hurt the cow. The vacuum of the milking machine gently squeezes out the milk - similar to the action of a sucking calf or baby sucking his thumb.
- It takes about 5 minutes to milk a cow.
- The first milking machine was patented in 1894. With milking machines, farmers can milk about 100 cows an hour.
- Before then, cows were milked by hand. A farmer could milk about 6 cows an hour by hand.
- If a cow misses a milking, the milk builds up in her udder. She will have lots of milk in her next milking and might even begin to leak.
Breeds of Cows
There are nearly 10 million milk cows in the U.S. today. About 90% of them are Holsteins.
The major breeds are:
(black and white)
(tan and white)
(dark brown or gray)
(white with reddish spots)