What Do Cows Drink?

As animal caretakers, we want to ensure that our animals never go hungry, and that they eat nutritious and healthy food.Hydration and drink are part of that nutritional mix. Here are a few things to consider when asking the question: “What do Cows Drink?”

The age-old question: What do cows drink?

It has often been taken for granted that cows drink just about anything because they eat a lot of things as well. There also has been a riddle/joke amongst youngsters where, after spelling the word SILK a few times, they are asked the question “what do cows drink?” And in their haste, they answer “MILK” because it sounds like SILK, and because cows are associated with (as the usual source of) the dairy drink. 

But is that wrong? Actually it is not that simple. The answer to this age-old question is made up of two parts. Young cows, or calves, do drink milk, but once they reach maturity, cows drink water. Good ol’ H2O is what our big bovine besties prefer to refresh and chug down for hydration.

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Cows actually drink WATER

It’s understandable when we associate milk with cows when it comes to hydration and drinking. After all, almost every milk carton has a cow drawn on them, and most images of cows are to illustrate dairy products. However, cows actually drink water once it reaches maturity at six months old. This helps them process and metabolize all that food that they eat. With its bulky build, our bovine besties can drink as much as 100 to 200 liters per day.

Water is particularly essential to dairy cows, because the amount of water intake is directly proportional to its milk production. Simply put, the more water the cows drink, the more milk it can produce. This is because milk is around 87 to 90 percent water, with the rest of the components as products of what the cow eats. 

Cows get water from many different sources, particularly from fresh spring or river water, nearby ponds, and sometimes from manmade systems and providers. The latter is especially handy during wintertime, when ponds, lakes, and other natural sources are frozen, and cows still need to rehydrate.

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…BUT the little ones need MILK

As mammals, cows produce milk to nourish their young. So, at the first six months of their lives, calves are fully dependent on their mother’s milk for growth and survival. Just like human babies, cows are particularly dependent on the colostrum, or the enriched milk from its mother, packed with nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and antibodies to fight of disease and infections. For the rest of its immature years, the calf will rely on this colostrum to bulk up and strengthen its organs.

For the first twenty four hours, calves can receive and digest this essential liquid colostrum from their mother. After such time, the calf’s digestive system will not be able to take in large molecules in a phenomenon called gut closure. At this time, it will start to rely on the regular whole milk from its mother. It is essential that the calf take in his colostrum within the twenty-four hour window, so that it can receive as much quality protein, lactose, fats, and calcium as possible for its cells and organs to fully develop into a strong Bessie. For this to happen, a calf must consume around 4 liters of colostrum during its first twelve hours, and then again for the next twelve.

While immature, calves will depend on milk from their mother until such time that they can take in and metabolize solid food. From as early as eight weeks (two months) old, calves will start to be less dependent on their mother’s milk and start to consume solid food in the form of grass, cow pellets, and other kinds of foliage and leaves.

In Summary : Cows drink water, but calves need milk

Much like all living organisms, cows drink water to rehydrate and quench their thirst. We just need to make sure that the water they drink is clean and pollutant-free, so that they do not pick up any toxins that may harm them in the long term. Little cows, or calves, however, just like all mammals, depend on their mother’s milk for nutrition until the age of maturity.

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