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Like other mammals, cows produce milk for the calves, but do adult cows drink milk? As a consumer, we are familiar with the products like beef, milk, and butter we get from cows, little do we know about the cow’s eating habits.
Milk, being rich in nutrients, has a major role to play in the life of all animal species. It is common for calves to drink for a few weeks of their lives for health and development. Calves survive on milk alone till they can eat solid food.
Coming back to our topic, do cows drink milk? Here’s all that you need to know about a cow’s drinking habit.
Do Cows Drink Milk?
Yes, calves drink milk for a few weeks before they begin eating solid food or forage. It is not natural for adult bovine to drink milk.
When young, cows also drink milk from their mothers like other mammals. As they grow older, they can not digest it properly and are better off eating forage. In some unusual circumstances, it is okay for them to drink milk.
Adult cows drink water which makes up 50% to 80% of cows’ weight. Pregnant Cow milk is only meant for calves, adult cows lose the ability to digest milk after the weaning age.
As a cow enters adulthood, it can not digest milk even if it wants to drink some.
Do Baby Cows Drink Milk?
It is no secret that baby cows or calves drink milk. Calves are fed their mother’s milk right after birth. The first milk of cows is called Colostrum which is given to baby cows within 24 hours after their birth.
The first cow milk is loaded with antibodies, nutrition, and vital minerals to help immunize the calves against early diseases.
In the coming 2 to 3 months, calves will feed on their mother’s milk or milk replacers. After about 3 months, they begin drinking water and consuming forage like adult cows.
Do Cows Drink Their Milk?
Cows do not drink their own milk generally. They often suckle their udders to relieve the pain of not having been milked. Cows can not produce milk till they have a calf and adult cows rarely need milk for themselves.
A cow may try to drink milk from an open bucket in the milking parlor if it is yet to be taken away for pasteurization.
It is not natural for cows to drink their own milk, however, if they start doing so, these cows with unsanitary habits are sold.
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Is it Dangerous For Cows to Drink Milk?
You probably never have heard of or seen a cow drinking milk regularly. It is not unsafe but definitely not recommended. If you want to give it in small quantities once in a while, that’s okay.
Giving cow milk to drink in large quantities regularly would be problematic. As cows grow up, their digestive system or rumen stomachs can not break down and digest fats well.
Despite this, if the cow is fed milk, there would be some digestive problems.
It is usually seen that cows are given milk in small quantity after giving birth, it is done as they have lost plenty of nutrients while producing Colostrum. It is a quick way to restore nutrients.
Farmers add dried milk powder or milk derivatives like cheese to the cow’s diet to provide the protein needed to maintain health.
Lactose Intolerance in Cows
According to research, It is quite mind-boggling that mammals that have been weaned off of milk when young become Lactose intolerant as they grow up.
It is common among cows and other mammals as once they enter adulthood, their bodies stop producing enzymes required to break sugar in milk.
Calves’ bodies actively produce the Lactase enzyme which aids in breaking the Lactose in milk with no difficulty.
During or post the weaning stage, when milk is no longer the primary food source, the Lactase enzyme production slows down, causing a natural intolerance to dairy.
However, this does not necessarily mean that cows can not drink milk at all anymore, it also does not mean that they should continue to do so. Give them milk once in a while when required and do not substitute water for milk.
Though it is extremely rare, self-sucking is the term used for cows trying to drink their own milk. It is the least desirable trait that leads to damaging the udder and the teats.
It is because udders are not meant to be suckled by a species as large as an adult cow.
Besides causing harm to the teats, this habit also shrinks the revenue of the farmers and they usually take the self-suckling cows to the slaughter. In extreme cases, these cows even attempt to suckle from other livestock.
Cows do so to alleviate the pain of calving, from the discomfort of her engorged udder, or due to a mineral deficiency.
What Happens When an Adult Cow Drinks Milk?
As adult cows lack the essential enzyme responsible for the breakdown and digestion of lactose molecules, drinking milk can lead to some unpleasant consequences.
When cows drink milk a little too much, they could face several health issues like diarrhea and mastitis. In severe cases, effects can be detrimental like low productivity and loss.
However, not all cows experience negative effects, some cows can get away with drinking milk without any influence on health or productivity.
Reasons Why Adult Cows Do Not Drink Milk
Wondering why adult cows do not need milk anymore after the weaning stage, there could be more than one possible reason for this.
There is No Need For It
Even though baby cows were surviving on milk alone for the first few months that does not mean they would need it as well in adulthood.
Cows have complicated stomachs with four separate stages of digestion. It also gives them an edge and allows them to extract more nutrients from grass and other foliage on the pasture than most animals.
Cows only need milk when they are young and their stomach is not developed properly to ingest solid food.
Once the ruminant stomach is developed and can properly digest grass and foliage, the Lactase enzyme production slows down.
This means that they no longer need milk as a main food source and can survive on grass and forage.
They are Not Allowed to Drink Milk
Even if they wanted to, farmers do not give them access and the extracted milk is taken away to be pasteurized for human consumption.
It is too profitable, therefore, farmers would not waste it by giving to them whey they clearly do not need it.
In the farming environment, it is only given to the cows under rare circumstances to make for the lost nutrients after giving birth or mineral deficiency.
It is mainly given to restore calcium levels, that too, in small quantities.
Farmers know the value of each drop of milk and the profit they can make off it. So, the cow’s milk is straight away taken for pasteurization and it can feed on forage alone.Lear How many people can a cow feed?
It is Not Sustainable
Cows have not evolved to consume milk as their primary food source is forage in adult life. Biologically, drinking milk would not give cows enough energy required in producing a certain amount of milk.
The energy required to put up with the daily tasks can only come from nutrients extracted from grass and forage. Occasionally, there is no harm in giving milk but it can never be an alternative to the regular diet.
Cows rarely drink milk as opposed to calves, it is also because they become lactose intolerant as they grow up. It is not entirely bad for the cows when given in a moderate amount to restore nutrients and calcium levels.
- Lactose intolerance in a calf
- Cow Milk Protein Allergy