You’re wandering the countryside, cutting through verdant cattle fields when suddenly it happens. Splat. You’ve stepped in a country pancake. Gross.
Have you ever noticed that cows poop ALL OVER the grass? Don’t they EAT the grass? Do Cows eat their poop? If these thoughts have crossed your mind, you’re in the right place!
The truth is, cows don’t intentionally eat their poop, but they may accidentally eat a little bit if their grass is dirty. Some other grazing animals need to pass grass through their digestive systems two or even three times before it can be digested, but cows have a unique digestive system that allows them to extract all the nutrients they need from the grass before it passes out the other end.
In this article, we’re going to find out why cows don’t need to eat their poop, and how they avoid it even though they poop all over their food! We’ll also look at what would happen if they did eat it and learn about some other animals that DO eat their own poop.
So hold your nose and let’s dive in!
Do Cows Eat Their Own Poop?
When an animal eats their own poop, it’s called coprophagia.
Some animals eat their poop for a good reason (like rabbits, who need to eat their poop to extract the full range of nutrients they need from the grass they eat), and some eat it because of neurological or compulsive behavior (like dogs), however, cows do fall into either of these categories since they do not eat their own poop intentionally.
Cows don’t eat their poop simply because they don’t need to. Unlike some other grazing animals, cows’ complex digestive systems allow them to extract all the nutrients they need from the grass they eat on the first pass.
Some animals like rabbits (who also feed mostly on grass) have a short intestine and simple digestive system, which means that the grass they eat needs multiple passes through their system to fully digest. (Source)
What Would Happen if Cows Ate Poop?
In nature, cows are roaming grazing animals, who would not stay in one area for a long time. This means they would turn up to a spot, devour the grass, and leave a trail of poop behind them.
In modern farming, cows are confined to a few fields at a time, which means they need to eat and poop in the same general location.
While cow poop is actually not dangerous in itself, if cows eat their own poop, any parasites or diseases present in one cow can pass on to the rest of the herd. A common issue with new calves is the contraction of cryptosporidiosis, which is a parasite found commonly in cattle and passed on through infected cow dung.
In a healthy adult herd, cow dung is actually not dangerous at all, since cows have a very limited diet of grass and foliage, and cryptosporidiosis does not affect adult cows. In fact, cow dung is extremely rich in nutrients which is why it’s so good as a fertilizer.
Do Any Other Animals Eat Their Own Poop?
Although cows don’t intentionally eat their own poop, there are lots of animals that do. Some animals need to eat their poop just to survive!
Some animals which eat their own poop include:
- Guinea Pigs
- Rhesus Monkeys
Is Cow Poop Dangerous to Humans?
Cow poop is made up mostly of undigested plant matter and water. It’s not especially dangerous to humans, however, cow dung also may contain bacteria and parasites which can affect humans as well as cows.
Examples of bacteria found in cow dung include E.Coli and Salmonella. Cow dung can also contain parasites like cryptosporidium which can cause cryptosporidiosis in humans with a weak immune system.
One lesser-known problem with cow dung is the possibility for drugs and chemicals administered to cows to make their way into the human water supply through cow manure.
Antibiotics, growth hormones, vaccinations, and other medicines which are given to cows to keep them healthy are also found in their manure, which is then spread in large quantities by farmers onto farmland and find their way into the water supply.
In one study by the Slovak University of Agriculture in Slovakia, “significant levels of veterinary pharmaceuticals” were found in untreated cow manure, and the study called for further research to be carried out to investigate the effect of these chemicals on the water supply.
Does Cows’ Food Have Poop In It?
You may have heard the phrase “This room is a bloody pig-sty!” uttered by your angry mother when you were young. To that I say, pigs are remarkably clean animals, try living in a cow barn!
Cow barns can be extremely dirty, because cows eat, sleep, and poop in the same barns. Thankfully though, cow food is always kept completely separate from the area of the barn where cows poop, usually in large concrete troughs to avoid any poop getting near the cows’ food.
Read More: What do Cows Eat?
To sum up, cows do not eat their own poop intentionally, although due to modern farming techniques cows are often confined to quite a small area and may accidentally eat some poop since they poop in the same place as they eat.
Cow poop is mostly harmless to adult cows, however, it contains some bacteria and parasites which can be harmful to cow calves and humans with weak immune systems.
Although cows don’t eat their own poop, there are actually quite a lot of animals who do. One of the most well-known animals to eat their own poop is the rabbit. Rabbits’ digestive systems aren’t strong enough to digest grass on the first try, so they need to “pass it through” several times to extract the nutrients they need.
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.