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  • Writer's pictureFarmer Pam's Moos

4 Months old: Ruminating & Off to Middle School

(January 2024) Your adopted calf is doing great! She's graduated from the calf barn (Elementary School) and is now in the next heifer barn (Middle School) with other calves. She's eating, playing, and just hanging out.

Each day, we clean her manger where she eats and give her fresh feed. Her "buffet" is full of food and she can eat whenever she likes. She also has fresh water. In the winter, she drinks from a heated water tank that prevents her water from freezing in Wisconsin's bitter cold. She also stays in a barn free from cold drafts. Her hair is thick which helps give her a natural coat against the cold weather. She gets plenty of energy in her grain mix to help her stay warm. And, now that she's eating alfalfa hay, she's ruminating which creates heat that also helps her to stay warm.

What is ruminating? Well, a calf and cow have a very special stomach. They eat protein, minerals, fat, and carbohydrates just like you and me. But, they also do something very special. They can eat stemmy grasses like alfalfa hay. Things that we humans can't digest. They have a "rumen" where the grasses and alfalfa go to ferment. Some of the long grasses need to be "re-chewed" to break them down further to ferment. That is what cud chewing is. A cow will spend 35-40% of her lifetime chewing her cud. The calf and cow will regurgitate those portions, culled "cud", into their mouth and chew on them for a while to break down the fibrous food. They swallow and then microbes breakdown the food and fatty acids are absorbed.

The food passes through the reticulum which filters the food removing any dense pieces or metal objects they may have swallowed. It then travels to the the Omasum. There, water is removed and absorbed back into the cow's body. From there, food travels to the Abomasum. This is the "true stomach" and functions just like your stomach. This is where digestive enzymes break the food down even more. The food travels through the small intestine and large intestine absorbing important nutrients for the body to function, grow, and to produce milk. What isn't digested exits the cow as manure (poop). Here's a graphic that explains the process:

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