What do cows eat?

Sue Blacker's picture
1 December, 2015 - 16:05 | Sue Blacker

This may seem like a silly question.  However, there is some method to my madness (not much, I will admit!) ...

I have a friend and fleece supplier called David Barrah, who is also a specialist meat inspector.  This means he goes to abbatoirs to ensure that only healthy animals get into the food chain.  As a result he sees some quite amazing things sometimes and is an expert on, for example, the appearance of Bovine TB lesions, and other gruesome illnesses, deformities or abnormalities.  Indeed he does more post mortem examinations than any vet!  Some of these things, he collects and uses to illustrate talks and presentations. 

One lovely result of his work has been his flock of Soay sheep, the originals of which were rescued from slaughter by him and who now supply Blacker Yarns.  They live with him and his family near Bristol, along with a number of parrots, some skuas and dogs. 

So what do cows eat?  Well, amonst other things, hair and baler twine, presumably generally by mistake.  I was reminded of this when I saw a Wovember article where a sheep was being shorn standing because her owner was afraid that, having eaten baler twine, she could be seriously damaged by being turned over for traditional shearing.  The objects photographed above were given to me by David and came from the rumen of a cow.  Not necessarily the same cow, as David does collect these as he finds them, from many cows.  The point being that the smooth one is a ball of hair and the rough one is a ball of baler twine, as processed and stored safely in the rumen, which of course is also where we could lodge electronic identification tags if we had a more sensible system than detachable ear tags.

Here are close-ups:

Even the baler twine has been made safe, though not as safe as the hair!  If these balls are cut open the individual components can be pulled out.  The smooth ball is roughly 8cm / 3 inches in diameter and the rough one slightly larger.  The smooth one weighs only 70 grams, and is amazingly light, but the rough one weighs 200 grams, so is considerably heavier and more dense.  Whether sheep can also do this, I have yet to discover!  But their super-powered insides operate on the same principles, turning grass into wool, milk, meat and sheepskins, rather than only meat, milk and leather, of course ...

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