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Can Cows Eat Corn?

Last Updated: 22.04.24


When looking to get the appropriate cattle feeders for your herd, you may want to consider all available types of feeders and also the feeding requirements of the cows you are breeding. Balanced diets are slightly different for dairy cows than the daily diet a meat cow should receive. But first of all, let’s take a closer look at how  the digestive system of cows works.

As most of us already know, cows are ruminants, which means they have a particular digestive system, just like sheep, goats, and deer. A cow’s stomach is made up of four separate compartments, each of them with a specific digestive structure and purpose. Cows are called ruminants because they need to ruminate the food they eat before actually digesting it.

What does ruminating mean? It means regurgitating partially digested food back into the mouth, and chewing it again. This process is very important to a cow’s health and overall wellbeing, and it can last for hours after a feeding session. Not ruminating throughout the day can be one of the first noticeable signs of illness, and the veterinarian should be called in as soon as possible.

This particular way of digesting food enables cows, and other ruminant animals, to get the most possible nutrient elements out of food that is quite scarce in protein and other elements. Chewing their food twice and then passing it through four separate digestive compartments is a wonderful adaptation of these animals to a food source that has little competition.


What are the four stomach compartments?

The rumen (paunch) is the first and the largest of the four stomach compartments. Its purpose is to break down the food that has been eaten, and it does that with the help of microorganisms, such as bacteria and protozoa. All this intense ruminating activity also helps to keep cows warm.

The reticulum is the second stomach chamber responsible for helping the rumen in the fermentation process of breaking down food. Furthermore, in case a cow swallows anything besides food, these non-food items will settle in this part of the stomach, not entering the rest of the digestive system.

The omasum is the next and third chamber of the stomach. This part of the stomach has many folds that are responsible for removing the water from the food particles and further grinding them up. Also, this stomach compartment is where fatty acids are being absorbed, which gives cows all the energy they need.

The abomasum is the fourth and last of the stomach compartments. It is usually referred to as the true stomach due to its hydrochloric and enzymes content that plays the role of digesting what is left of the food that has been ingested. This is the stomach chamber from which rennet for cheesemaking is traditionally made.

What does a cow usually eat?

In order to keep your cow healthy and happy, there are a few general feeding guidelines you need to follow, such as never making any drastic changes to their diet all at once, and avoid feeding them large amounts of any new food. Either one of these two practices can lead to major digestive disruptions and even illness to your animals.

Cows love grazing for hours and then laying down to ruminate the tasty green grass for an even longer time. The way a cow is fed on a daily basis very much depends on the season, and also on how sunny or rainy the weather is. On warm days cows will eat small amounts of hay and large amounts of grass, whereas in cold days things are the other way around.

In the winter time, a cow’s diet mostly consists of good quality lucerne hay and crushed grains in small amounts. In the summertime, it’s made up of green grass, some hay and also a few crushed grains. Cows that have given birth should have a special diet also, enriched with calcium and vitamins for as long as three months after having her calves.

Cows’ diets also vary according to their breeding purpose. Meat cows, for instance, should receive a slightly large amount of crushed grains. Grains, corn, in particular, have higher protein levels, which ensure proper muscle mass development. Overfeeding grains should be avoided because of the risk of developing metabolism related illness.

Mineral supplements should be available near all feeding areas, placed in easily reachable areas, at all times. If they are not easily purchasable in your area, then big chunks of raw, rough salt will do the job. Cows will lick the salt in between feedings, thus getting the so much needed mineral supplement.  


Can cows eat corn?

Yes, they can. They actually love corn. All parts of the corn plant can be fed to them, when available. Since corn tastes sweet, the farmer usually has a hard time keeping the cows away from corn. Of course, the same guidelines apply to feeding corn for the first time of each year, as for any other new food of the season.

Corn leaves are a cow’s favorite meal. So much so, they might not eat other green plants if served at the same time. Since corn leaves are rich in fibers and other nutrient elements they can be fed to cows on a daily basis, but not in unlimited quantities. In any cow’s diet, balance is key to her overall health.

Cornstalk is another part of the corn plant that cows can eat, but they should first be cut down in smaller pieces, manageable for them to digest. The most widely used form of corn for cows is the grain form since it is available all year round, easy to store and it can be mixed with other grains when crushed. One can add calcium and vitamin supplements to the grain mix.

When choosing to feed your cow corn plants, make sure they are harvested from a clean area, free of any pesticide treatments, or any other sort of chemicals. Avoiding chemical poisoning is of utmost importance since cows are sensitive to chemicals and can very rapidly die in case of poisoning or a toxic state.

Cow feeding watch-outs

In the end, in feeding a ruminating animal, timing is key. Because of their particular digestive system, you need to keep a balance between dry hay, green grass, and crushed grains. Crushed grains should always be fed before and after dry hay, and never before and after green grass, to avoid the gassy fermentation process that can lead to bloating and illness.

When feeding hay, always make sure you feed cows good quality, as fresh as possible hay. Humid, moldy or otherwise unsuitable quality hay can make cows ill, sometimes even leading to abortion or death due to its high toxin content. Also, mold spores flying around during feeding time can cause dangerous respiratory problems.

When feeding green grass and grains watch out for any possible chemical contamination of the food, in order to avoid serving food in that condition. Watch out for mold in grains, as well. All of these elements can cause intoxication in cows, either by toxins in mold or by chemical toxins in pesticides and other such substances.



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