Cows do drink milk, but usually only while they are calves. Adult cows don’t drink milk naturally, although on very rare occasions farmers may allow dairy cows to drink milk to boost their nutrients.
In this article, we’ll be finding out about the special milk cows make for their calves, why adult cows don’t drink milk, and what happens to cows if they drink their own milk.
Do All Cows Drink Milk?
Cows are mammals, and all mammals drink milk from their mothers when they are young.
Although all cow calves drink milk, adult cows don’t drink milk except in some very uncommon situations, usually in farming.
Why Don’t Adult Cows Drink Milk?
Adult cows usually don’t drink milk for a few reasons.
1. They Don’t Need It.
Cows have complex stomachs with four separate stages of digestion. This allows them to extract vastly more nutrients from grass and other foliage on the pastures than other animals with a simple stomach like humans.
Cow calves only need milk when they are young, because their ruminant stomachs have not yet developed enough to properly digest grass and foliage.
This is not the case in adult cows, whose stomachs are fully developed and are able to get all the nutrients they need from eating plants.
2. They Don’t Have Access To It Even If They Wanted It
In the wild, cows produce milk to feed their young calves. In a farming environment, cows’ milk is extracted daily and taken away to be pasteurized for human consumption.
Even if the cows wanted to drink milk, it’s too profitable for the farmers and only in very rare circumstances are cows allowed to have milk, such as just after they have given birth, to restore their calcium levels.
3. It’s Not Sustainable
The energy required for a cow to create a given quantity of milk is greater than the energy the cow would gain by consuming it. Biologically, this is a recipe for starvation so it makes sense that cows have not evolved to consume milk.
Do Cows Drink Their Own Milk?
In general, cows do not drink their own milk. Not necessarily because they don’t want to, but just because milk is only produced when a cow has a calf and adult cows don’t need milk for themselves.
A cow might drink milk if they find an open bucket of milk in the milking parlor, although milk is usually taken away straight away for pasteurization.
1. Is It Common For Cows To Drink Their Own Milk?
Although cows sometimes drink their own milk, it’s extremely uncommon, and any cows that do start drinking their own milk are often sold on for meat since it’s unsanitary.
2. Can Cows Drink Milk from Their Own Udders?
Cows very rarely drink from their own udders. This behavior is not natural and extremely uncommon, although some dairy cows have been known to do this to relieve the pressure of excess milk in their udders.
Sadly, when a cow starts drinking her own milk the cow is usually sent off to slaughter for meat, because the milk becomes unsanitary and the farmer can no longer sell it.
Do Baby Cows Drink Their Mother’s Milk?
Baby cows (Calves) feed on their mother’s milk in the wild, but in farming situations calves are weaned very quickly and transferred to a synthetic milk replacement diet as soon as possible, especially veal calves, which are weaned after only a few days.
1. Colostrum vs Milk – What’s The Difference?
In the first few days after a cow has given birth, she produces a special kind of milk called colostrum.
Colostrum is more nutritious than mature milk and also contains vital antibodies to help the newborn calf fight off diseases and infections.
Farmers are not legally allowed to sell this milk, so in most countries, calves are fed the colostrum milk to give them the best possible chance at life.
Calves are often fed on colostrum milk for six days, before being gradually weaned off it and put on to a diet of synthetic milk and hay.
2. When Do Calves Stop Drinking Their Mothers Milk?
In the wild, calves can feed on their mother’s milk for several months, however this is typically not permitted on farms, because the milk is collected for humans instead.
In most farms, calves are few on colostrum (milk) from their mothers for around six days, after which they are gradually weaned and transferred on to a diet of synthetic milk replacement and alfalfa hay when they are between four and ten weeks of age.
Is it Safe to Feed Milk to a Cow?
Although it’s uncommon for cows to drink milk, it’s perfectly safe for them in small quantities.
In larger quantities, cow milk is unsafe for cows to drink because their rumen stomachs can not break down and digest fats well, leading to digestive problems.
Cows are sometimes given milk as soon as they have given birth, because they lose a lot of nutrients when they produce colostrum for their newborn and milk is a quick way to restore these nutrients.
Farmers also occasionally use dried milk powder or milk derivatives like cheese whey to supplement their cows’ regular diet, since this is an easy and inexpensive way to add protein to their diet.
Cows produce milk for their calves, and although adult cows rarely drink milk, all cow calves drink milk from their mothers.
In very rare circumstances, cows may drink milk, usually when the farmer leaves milk unguarded by accident. Milk isn’t bad for cows, but in large quantities their stomachs can not digest the fat and it gives them digestion problems.
Cow calves usually drink their mothers’ milk for the first six days, because the first milk produced after giving birth contains important nutrients and antibodies which help the calf to build a strong immune system. This special milk is called colostrum.
On rare occasions, cows may drink directly from their own udders to relieve their discomfort, however this is unsanitary and dairy cows who drink their own milk are usually sent to be slaughtered to protect the integrity of the milk supply.
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.