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Do Cows Drink Milk?

Have you ever seen a cow munching on green grass while driving past a farm? Or have you have seen a cow eating food from a barn trough? You might have an idea of what foods they eat. But if you’re still wondering what a cow drinks, here are some answers for you.

Cows are vertebrates in the class Mammalia. Mammals (from the Latin word mamma, “breast”) produce milk in specialized mammary glands to nourish their young. All animals in the class Mammalia produce milk to feed their young, have fur, are warm-blooded, and have unique jaw structures. If a cow is a mammal, does it drink milk?

Table of Contents

What do calves drink?

Cow with calf
Cow with calf, Credit: Wikimedia/KannanVM

The most important drink a newborn calf needs is the colostrum, enriched milk from its mother. A calf requires colostrum to receive nutrients, minerals, and antibodies. These antibodies protect the calf from diseases, while the nutrients and minerals help the calf build up its strength. Colostrum is packed with protein, lactose , fats, and calcium.

A calf requires four quarts of colostrum at birth and the same amount twelve hours later for optimum development. A calf has 24 hours after birth to receive the liquid colostrum, as the calf’s gut will become impermeable to large molecules after this time. This impermeability is called gut closure.

Calves survive on the milk from their mother until they can eat solid food, like grass, cow pellets, or foliage. At about the age of 8 weeks, the owner will begin to wean the calf from its mother’s milk.

To produce milk for its young, it is necessary for a female cow to eat a healthy diet. A cow is an herbivore, meaning it eats plants. It consumes grasses, alfalfa, clover, and hay from the pasture, or chopped corn called silage that the farmer provides.

The plants the cow eats are digested by traveling through the four compartments of its specialized stomach. A ruminant animal’s four stomach compartments allow it to digest grass or vegetation without having to chew it completely first. Microbes in the compartments help break down the tough plants the cow eats.

The nutrients from the food travel through the blood stream to the cow’s udder. Cells in the udder use water and the nutrients to produce milk. If a cow is making milk for only one calf, she will produce about one gallon of milk per day.

What do cows drink?

A cow loses the ability to drink milk at around six months, when it’s weaned from its mother’s milk or milk supplement.

Adult cows drink water, which helps them digest food and metabolize nutrients. A cow will drink anywhere from 30 to 50 gallons (113.6 to 189.3 liters) of water per day. On an extremely hot day, the water intake of a cow can double. If a cow does not get enough water, its milk production declines.

Now when you’re asked, “Do Cows Drink Milk?” you can point out that calves drink their mother’s milk and adult cows drink water.

Glossary

Vertebrate: an animal with a backbone or spinal column.

Mammary glands: the milk-producing glands of a female mammal.
Colostrum: the first secretion from mammary glands after giving birth, which is rich in antibodies.

Antibodies: a protein produced by the body’s immune system when it detects harmful substances, called antigens. Antigens include bacteria, viruses, fungi, allergens, venom, and other various toxins.

Impermeable: not permeable; not permitting passage, as of a fluid through another substance.

Gut closure: a developmental stage as a newborn mammal’s intestine matures. Activation of the process “closes” the intestine to large molecules.

Foliage: the leafy parts of a tree or a plant.

Herbivore: an animal that feeds on plants.

Silage: grasses or other crops, such as rye or corn, that are cut, fermented, and compressed until they’re ready to be fed to livestock.

Ruminant: an animal that chews the cud. Specifically: an herbivorous, even-toed, hoofed mammal (suborder Ruminantia and Tylopoda) that has a complex 3- or 4-chambered stomach.

Udder: the mammary gland of female cattle, sheep, goats, horses, and related animals, having two or more teats and hanging between the hind legs of the animal.

Metabolize: the chemical changes that take place in a cell or an organism that make energy and the materials that cells and organisms need to grow, reproduce, and stay healthy.

Wean: to start feeding a child or young animal food other than its mother’s milk.

Lactose: a sugar present in milk.

Readability: 77.7

Flesch Kincaid Grade Level: 5.3

Juper, Talon. Do Cow Drink Milk? https://farmingbase.com/do-cows-drink-milk/

Do Cows Drink Their Own Milk? https://consort-design.com/do-cows-drink-their-own-milk/

Worster, Cassi. Calf Success: The First 24 Hours. December 1, 2020. https://fonddulac.extension.wisc.edu/calf-success-the-first-24-hours/

Thomas, Craig. Drinking Water for Dairy Cattle: Part 1. April 5, 2011. https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/drinking_water_for_dairy_cattle_part_1