Feeding Cattle on the Homestead

An explanation of the digestive process, care and feeding of cattle on the small homestead.

| November/December 1972


The stomach of a cow changes as it grows to adulthood.


Click on the Image Gallery for referenced figures. 

Beginning farmers usually do pretty well with gardens, chopping wood and building outhouses . . . but the birth of that first calf or litter of pigs generally sets 'em back a couple of notches. R.J. Holliday DVM, a veterinarian in Missouri and MOTHER contributor, intends to remedy the situation. His tool? A new handbook precisely designed to explain all the animal facts of life in language that new back-to-the-landers can understand. 

When I was a youngster, I thought my Dad had some strange ideas about livestock nutrition. He actually expected me to pick out the best parts of each bale of hay, feed them to the family cow . . . and give only the weedy leftovers to my horse!

Naturally, this didn't work out too well in practice because I tended to exactly reverse my father's feeding priorities. Thanks to me, the horse stayed sleek and fat . . . and, surprisingly, the cow continued to give plenty of milk and raised a healthy calf every year too.

I didn't know it at the time, but the reason Old Jersey got along as well as she did on the relatively poor hay I fed her was because she was a ruminant, or cud-chewing animal . . . and ruminants are endowed with a very complex, unique digestive system designed to extract — in ways we do not yet fully understand — nutrition from cellulose.

Most people have heard that a cow has four stomachs. The bulk of the evidence now available, however, tends to support the theory that she really has only one . . . which is divided into four compartments: the rumen or paunch, the reticulum or honeycomb, the omasum or many plies, and the abomasum or rennet. An inspection of the lining of these different compartments will graphically show the origin of the common names.

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