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Cows are herbivores, meaning they are animals that are anatomically and physiologically adapted to eating plant materials as the main component of their diet. Herbivores can be found on land, in the sea, and in freshwater.
Even though cows are herbivores, if a cow eats a moderate amount of meat, nothing will happen. But, if a cow eats a large amount of meat, they risk their health and can be infected with Mad Cow Disease.
Improper nutrition of cows results in bad health and causes disorders. Since cows are herbivores, their bodies are designed to eat plants, grains, and corn. Cows are also ruminant mammals, which means their digestive system is specialized for fermenting plant-based food. So what would happen if a cow eats meat?
What happens if a cow eats meat?
If a cow eats a small amount of meat, nothing will happen. Some herbivores will not hesitate to eat a piece of meat when they get the chance. There are documented events where cows have eaten a chicken on their own. Some say that one of the reasons they eat meat is because their diet is deficient, and they are trying to make up for lack of nutrients. In the case of cows, they will eat a chicken due to mineral deficiency. But some researches show that it is extremely normal behavior, and we’re only documenting it now.
However, if a cow is frequently fed with meat, blood, and bones, it develops BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy), also known as Mad Cow Disease. It is a deadly neurodegenerative disease of cattle. It developed first in Great Britain in the 1960s, when the price of soy, used to feed animals, rose. The British began producing meat and bone meals from the slaughterhouse waste to feed sheep and cattle.
Cows can digest smaller amounts of meat, but if they are given a large dose continually, the threat of life-long diseases begins to rise. They can develop diseases that can cause organ malfunction since they are biologically made to eat mainly plant food. They can also even develop growth abnormalities. The ban on feeding cattle meat and bones has resulted in a large reduction in the number of cases.
Even if they can eat meat, it doesn’t mean they need to eat it. Historically speaking, cow’s food has consisted mainly of grass. They started eating grains when humans started using cows for production.
Can a cow digest meat?
As herbivores, they have a stomach divided into four sections that allow them to digest carbohydrates (for example, cellulose), which no other mammal with one stomach can digest. Herbivores that consume plants rich in cellulose must ‘ferment’ their food (digest it with the help of bacterial enzymes) to retain its nutritional value. The first and main digestive organ is a ‘rumen’, an organ that digests plants that humans would have a hard time eating. It processes grass so the nutrients can be processed by the other 3 gastrointestinal organs.
Because of their special digestive system, they can get the most nutrients from a plant, much more than humans can. They ate biologically designed to eat grass and they can survive eating only grass because it is high in nutrients.
But, they might not have teeth effective for chewing meat. Ruminants have only lower incisors, while a dental plaque is developed on the upper jaw, which makes it easier for them to pluck and cut grass. They are not equipped to hunt and tear flesh from other animals, but they will chew bones for calcium. Raiding nests for baby rabbits and birds are a part of their nature. That is especially common if cows are pregnant or nursing, or if they are healing from an injury.
If a cow was given a large amount of meat, it can sit and rot in the rumen, and the cow will be malnourished and result in death. In a lot of cases, cows would eat the placenta after giving birth. Even though meat is a good source of protein, there are problems with processing fat and cholesterol since herbivores don’t have metabolic features to digest them fully.
It’s not natural for a cow to eat large quantities of food, for example, corn. It causes them to bloat and leads to serious health issues. Since corn is low in calcium, cows will turn to eat bones to make up for the lack of it.
Cows are very sensitive and require proper care. They should be provided with sufficient daylight. If the cows are grazing, light is ensured naturally, but if kept in old stables artificial light must be provided. What also helps their digestive system is fresh air. To make sure their metabolic processes work, they need a sufficient amount of oxygen. They need to be outdoors as long as possible, with water available for them at all times. They need to have freedom of movement, improving their digestion and health.
Why do herbivores eat meat?
In school, we were taught that herbivores strictly eat plants, and carnivores eat meat. It turns out that there are exceptions to that rule. The first documented cases were of deer, who have been feeding with the flesh of dead animals, mostly fishes, and sometimes feeding on bigger carcasses. Cows will most likely eat small birds when given the chance.
In the wilderness, they consume meat from time to time as finding a new way to survive, but that does not mean they can become carnivores, because their bodies are not designed for that. Animals that graze on grass will probably eat worms, bugs, and other insects. If a herbivore’s normal food source is low, they’ll turn to other types of feeding. Even more so in wintertime when they cannot easily find plant food. If an animal is starving and has no sources of food and water, it will turn to cannibalism to stay alive.
Some even say that it is opportunistic eating – if it’s there, why not eat it? While carnivores spend most of their time hunting, herbivores spend their time eating. Meat is very high in protein and packed with energy. Also, since plants are high in cellulose, they can process small amounts of meat easily. Even though it is their nature, a lot of animal’s energy is spent trying to digest plants.
Herbivores are by no means predators. Mostly, they will eat small injured animals, found on the ground. For example, horses will eat injured duck, geese, and rabbit. In Iceland horses are fed with salted fish during winter, to make up for lack of protein.
Are cows fed meat in the USA?
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published a regulation in 1997, in which they prohibited feeding cows meat. It is illegal to use mammalian protein for feeding cows, sheep, and goats. It is forbidden to feed them carcasses of BSE-positive cattle, and the entire carcass of cattle. But, they are still allowed to feed them with blood and blood products, pure pork, and pure horse protein.
There are two types of feeding cattle – fodder and forage. Fodder mostly includes straw, hay and silage, some oils and grains, and is usually given in wintertime. Forage is all plant-based food. It includes grass that cows get from grazing. All around the world, a lot of farmers put feed additives in cattle’s food, to help with nutrient deficiency.
But cows can be fed with many different things. When pumpkins, potatoes, and sugar beets begin to spoil, they can be fed to the cows. Due to their stomach, they can process these products better than humans. They can eat many things that are considered waste. But you need to be careful by not giving them too much waste food.
In the United States, more than 50 percent of cattle’s food is grass, especially for cows raised for meat. In summer, they eat up to 220 pounds of grass, since grass contains about 87 percent water. In wintertime, it will eat around 30 pounds. of hay and 40 pounds of corn mixture.
Statistics suggest that around 10 percent of cow feed in the United States is composed of animal flesh and bone meal. While the FDA disapproved of some ingredients, cows are still being fed with skin, blood, and the same species meat. Some cases even show that farm animals eat an unhealthy amount of grains, filled with drugs and chemicals.