Can Cows Eat Clover?

As animal caretakers, we want to ensure that our animals never go hungry, and that they eat nutritious and healthy food. Here are a few things to consider when asking the question: “Can Cows Eat Clover?”

As known herbivores, Can Cows Eat Clover?

We may think about luck when we hear of Clover. This three-leaved plant is often associated with good fortune and the Celtic culture, but when talking of cattle chow, can they be eaten? The answer is more of a NO than a YES. Although they are plants and cows are herbivores, the contents of the clover can cause more discomfort and pain to cows rather than the satisfaction of a good meal. 

If they should eat clover, this should be done in moderation. Cows CAN eat clover in small doses, avoiding the gassy buildup in their gut. Also, these have to be classified feed-safe and mold-free. Any deviation from these conditions may result in your cows having metabolic diseases and/or pasture bloat.

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What is Clover?

Also known as Trefoil, Clover is the common name for over 300 different species of flowering plants under the genus Trifolium (Three Leaves). Closely related to peas and alfalfa, Clover is a type of legume that occur worldwide. Of the many types of clover, there are some that cattle raisers should be on the lookout for.

Different Types of Clover

  1. White Sweet Clover – Cows should avoid eating this type of clover, especially when spoiled or moldy. This can be a challenge since the white sweet clover closely resembles the garden variety trefoils, and has a pleasant scent. When cows consume the spoiled plants, they can develop fatal hemorrhagic disease where their blood vessels burst and lead to internal bleeding. This is mainly due to the compound coumarins (Warfarin/Coumadin), which is processed into blood thinners for human use, and an active ingredient in rodenticides.
  2. Pink Alsike Clover / Buffalo Clover – Too much of these types of clover may result in ultraviolet radiation sensitivity, or photosensitization. This is similar to sunburn, but May further lead to secondary bacterial infection when left unchecked. These species can also cause liver damage to your bovine beasts due to the cumulative effects of clover in the cow’s body.

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The Big Danger of Cows Eating Clover

Though it looks like clover could be very beneficial to a cow’s diet, there is still a threat to our bovine buddies upon consumption: Pasture or Cattle Bloat.

What is Bloat?

Cattle Bloat (generally known as Pasture Bloat) is indigestion caused by an excessive amount and accumulation of gas in the cows’ rumen (a large section of their digestive system). This condition causes the cow major discomfort, difficulty breathing, frequent urination and/or defacation, and in some cases, sudden collapse and even death. Though usually non-fatal, bovine deaths due to bloat often are caused by negligence and lack of monitoring. 

Basically, the components of clover cause the cow’s gut to fill with gas like a balloon. As it does so, presses against the surrounding organs causing all the aforementioned discomfort to the cow

In Summary : Cows shouldn’t eat Clover

They may look tempting because of their abundance and pleasant smell, but good cattle raisers should steer their cows away from them lest they cause more harm than good. Cattle or Pasture Bloat is a serious condition affecting a majority of the cattle population, but other threats such as coumarins and similar compounds add to the risks posed by these three-leaves plants.

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