Cows are amazing creatures. They have the ability to convert foods that we, as humans, would not be able to utilize, into a food that we can consume.
Cows can utilize material that contains cellulose. Cellulose is present in plants, and gives plants strength, allowing them to stand and grow upwards (instead of flopping over). While humans can consume cellulose, we don’t have the enzymes to break the material down to be able to utilize the nutrients contained within it. In contrast, cows can convert cellulose to energy. They have protozoa and bacteria in their digestive systems that can break the cellulose down into shorter carbohydrate chains, and eventually glucose.
In addition, there are waste products available from different industries. For example, tomatoes are made into ketchup, sauce, soup and juice. The skin, seeds & fiber left over are collectively called tomato pomace.
Another example is from the cotton industry. The cotton is taken off the seed and utilized for clothing. However, the cottonseed remains. By-products (like tomato pomace and cottonseed) can be fed to dairy cows. The cows can utilize the by-products, as they have protozoa and bacteria to break down the material, and convert it into nutrients to fuel their bodies. More examples of products humans use and the by-products that cows can use are listed in the table below.
|Product Humans Use||By-Product that Cows can Use|
|Beer/ Malt (Corn, Barley)||Brewer’s Grain|
|Cheese||Whey (liquid or dry)|
|Corn Starch||Corn Gluten Meal|
|Cotton for clothing||Cottonseeds (whole or meal)|
|Ethanol (Corn)||Distillers Grain|
|High Fructose Corn Syrup (Corn)||Corn Gluten Feed|
|Soybean oil||Soy hulls|
|Sugar Beets, Sugar Cane||Molasses|
|Tomato for sauce & juice||Tomato Pomace|
|Wheat flour||Wheat Bran|
The coolest part is that cows can then use those nutrients to make foods that we can consume and get nutrition from – milk and meat. As such, these gentle giants are one of nature’s recyclers. Think of all the by-products and material that would be wasted if cows could not recycle them.
Robin R. Rastani, Ph.D., is a Dairy Technical Manager for NOVUS International, Inc. She works with dairy producers and nutritionists to provide optimal nutrition for dairy cows to ensure the cows are healthy and produce a great product for consumers. Feel free to follow her on Twitter (@cownutritionist).