Cows can eat bread. It’s easy for them to digest and is more energy-dense than grass or grains.
Although bread is suitable for cows, it doesn’t make economic sense to feed bread to cows, since cows are perfectly happy with grains and grasses that don’t require processing and thus are much cheaper.
This article will outline whether or not cows should eat bread, what effect bread has on cows, if bread is safe for cows, and why stale or moldy bread is a major health hazard for cows and other ruminants.
Can Cows Eat Bread?
Cows have complex multi-chambered digestive systems called rumens which are made for digesting grass and other hard-to-digest foods. Bread is relatively simple for cows to digest and is energy-dense compared to grass.
Cows can eat bread, although bread is very expensive compared to grains and grasses due to the extra processing required, so it’s rarely a good option for cows from an economic standpoint.
Is Bread Safe for Cows?
Bread is safe for cows, as long as it’s plain bread with nothing added, the bread is fresh and not moldy or stale, and the quantity of bread is small enough that the cow won’t have any problems digesting it, or else the cow might vomit.
Bread with additional ingredients like cheese, or sugary bakery products like cakes will not be suitable for cows, because the extra protein from the cheese can upset their delicate digestive systems.
In addition, cows’ digestive systems work by a cycle of multiple regurgitations and re-chewing of their food, enabling them to eventually break down difficult-to-digest foods like grass. Feeding a cow too much bread at once will completely fill their rumens and could lead to cattle bloat, a serious condition that can be fatal for cows.
Read More: What do Cows Eat?
Can Cows Eat Stale or Moldy Bread?
One major problem with bread and other bakery products is that they go stale very quickly and can become moldy.
Mold is an extremely dangerous problem for cows and other ruminants and is a major concern in all cattle feed, not just in fresh bakery products. You’ve probably seen hay bales wrapped in plastic, that’s to stop water getting in and causing mold.
Cows should never eat moldy or stale bread. Moldy food allows mycotoxins to develop, which are toxic compounds that are dangerous to both cows and humans. Mycotoxins caused by moldy food can cause serious respiratory illness and even abortions in cows.
According to the University of Minnesota, common mycotoxins caused by moldy food can include:
- F-2 Toxin
- penicillic acid
Farmers go to great lengths to protect their cattle from mold. Most bulk grains destined for cattle food is tested to determine the level of mold present.
Food with a mold spore count of over 1 million parts per gram is considered unsafe for cattle, and there are increasingly dangerous side effects as the spore count increases.
Related Article: Why Do We Eat Cows?
Should Cows Eat Bread?
In general, cows should not be given bread, even though a small amount of fresh bread is perfectly safe for them. Bread is uneconomical, and the risks of mold and digestion issues are high in stale bread or when too much bread is given at once.
Although bread is easily digestible for cows, this can be a negative as well as a positive, since the increased rate of digestion can produce a buildup of gas and froth in the cows’ rumens. In serious cases this can cause bloat and other digestive issues.
Read More: Do Cows Have Four Hearts?
Should You Feed Bread to a Cow?
If it’s not your cow, you shouldn’t feed them anything, including bread. Farmers have strict plans in place for cows’ diets and you don’t know just by looking if cows have health problems that breat could exacerbate.
Bread is extremely energy-dense compared to unprocessed grasses and grains, and feeding a small amount of bread can fill a cow up. If you unwittingly feed bread to a cow recovering from bloat or some other digestive issue, the bread could exacerbate their condition and cause them to suffer needlessly.
Read More: Are Cows Omnivores?
To sum up, cows can eat bread, but it’s not economical compared to feeding them grass, hay, or air-dried grains like corn, barley, or soy, since bread has to be processed first.
Cows are able to digest bread without any problems, but there are inherent risks involved with feeding fresh bread to cattle involving their delicate digestive systems and the propensity for mold in bakery products like bread.
Cows can digest bread much quicker than they can digest non-processed foods like grain or grasses. This is because the grains in the bread have been ground up and thus have a much larger surface area. When a cow digests bread their rumens create much more gas and heat than when they digest their regular food, which can cause bloat.
Cattle should never eat moldy or stale bread, since the mold can create harmful chemicals called mycotoxins that can cause respiratory diseases and other illnesses in cows.
Stuart is the editor of Fauna Facts. He edits our writers’ work as well as contributing his own content. Stuart is passionate about sustainable farming and animal welfare and has written extensively on cows and geese for the site.