How Cows Make Milk

| 9/12/2016 4:14:00 PM

Tags: cows, raising livestock, home dairying, milking, animal care, Steve Judge, Vermont,

Properly fed cows enjoy diets rich in hay and grass. Both are rich in cellulose. This alone is remarkable because cellulose is very difficult to digest. Humans lack the ability to digest cellulose but the digestive systems of cows have evolved specifically to digest it. A diet that includes plenty of grass and long-stemmed hay is critical for keeping cows healthy so they can enjoy good, long lives. We graze our cows on wooded pastures, for example.

Cows Eating Hay

The Four Cow Stomachs

Cows are ruminants, which means they have four stomachs or four stomach compartments. Other ruminants include goats, sheep, water buffalo, etc. Each one of the four stomachs plays a different role in digesting food and making milk. 

The rumen is the cow’s first stomach, where the partly chewed grass initially enters. Upon arrival, it is mixed with water and partially broken down by stomach juices and microbes. The rumen can hold over 25 gallons of the mixture.

The grass then passes into the reticulum where it is further softened and made into small wads called cuds. The cuds return to the cow’s mouth one by one where they are chewed 40 to 60 times, which takes about one minute per cud. Cows enjoy chewing their cud and seem to get lost in peaceful thought while doing it.

The chewed cud goes to the omasum where it is pressed by to remove much of the water and is further digested. 

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