Young cows drink milk, but adult cows drink water. Young unweaned cows source their nutrition from their mother’s milk. But by the ninth week, they are weaned off such milk. Consequent to their development by that interval, the heifer commonly loses its capacity to digest milk. By then, water becomes a dominant part of their diet, driving the growth and performance of the cow.
The discussion about what cows drink is quite an amusing one. If you were not thinking cows majorly drink milk, you must have asked what quantity of water they consume daily. Some have even gone as far as wondering if cows can drink beer or alcohol generally. The good news is we are answering all these exciting questions in this guide.
What Do Cows Actually Drink?
When asked the above question, the first answer that commonly comes to mind is that cows drink milk. This is not correct. Yes, baby cows drink milk, but adult cows derive no nutritional value from milk. Instead, adult cows mainly drink water.
The first milk their mother produces within 24 hours of delivery – called colostrum – is critically nourishing for baby cows. This colostrum is loaded with minerals, antibodies, and beef up the newborn calf’s immunity for years to come.
Within 9-12 weeks after birth, the calf is progressively weaned off the milk. With time, the heifer sources its liquefied nourishment from water instead of milk, with milk replacers used in some cases to smoothen the transition to forage.
How Much Water Do Cows Drink a Day?
Cows are large water consumers. Averagely, a cow can drink up a full bathtub filled with water. This is, however, generic as the water quantity a cow drinks varies with parameters like the weather and the cow type – regarding what product it is bred for: dairy products or beef.
Compared to a cow bred for beef, cows bred for dairy products have higher water requirements. Let us dive deeper, shall we?
Water is a critical stakeholder in regulating the metabolic functions of dairy cows, like their milk generation capacity and body temperature.
A cow that is not lactating would drink only half of the water capacity a lactating colleague would. More specifically, for each 1000g of milk a lactating cow secretes, it can gulp as much as 4.5 liters of water.
It is way less for beef-producing cows. This cow’s water intake majorly compensates for the liquid content of its waste. Depending on the weather, a beef-producing cow could drink anywhere from 3-30 water gallons daily.
The weather parameter needs no much explaining. Just like humans, cows drink more water when their environment is hotter. This is considering the increased hydration requirement that accompanies elevated temperatures.
While a cow would drink a water gallon for every 100lbs it weighs on a typical winter day, that same cow could end up drinking as much as two water gallons for that same weight metric on a sunny summer day.
Aside from the product it is reared for and the weather, a cow’s water intake is also influenced by its age and feed quality.
When you feed your cow with forage of high water content (as derivable from fresh green grass), your cow may not drink as much water as it would when loaded with dried hay.
Also, feeding your cow meals containing notable amounts of salts and proteins would increase its water requirement.
How Often Do Cows Drink Water?
The frequency of water consumption is dependent on the conditions mentioned above. Nevertheless, a healthy cow can drink water up to 15 times in 24 hours.
Each water drinking session barely spans longer than 30 seconds. Within this interval, a cow can drink up to 10 liters. On sunny days, milk-producing cows can drink up to 200 liters in one day!
Why Do Cows Drink So Much Water?
For cows, water is just more than a favored delicacy; it is a critically needed nourishment. In a cow, water plays vital functions like driving growth, digestion, reproduction, and regulating the cow’s metabolism.
Water also controls other important proceedings in a cow, like excretion, lactation, nutrient hydrolysis, even as far as lubricating the cow’s joint.
Given how vital water is, your cow must be supplied with high-quality water. Strive to avoid feeding your cow water with substantial bacteria content or biofilm.
Water with significant mineral composition should be avoided. Generally, anything water whose pH level falls out of the recommended 6-8.5 range should not be fed to your cow.
Can Cows Drink Milk?
As explained baby cows can drink milk, but not adult cows. A young cow’s digestive system is optimized to extract vital minerals, proteins, and antibodies from milk.
But once weaned of milk, as in adult cows, the cow can no longer digest milk. Therefore, milk has almost zero nutritional value for cows older than 9 weeks (typical weaning age).
Can Cows Drink Beer?
While not conventional, interesting investigations have been carried out on the dietary suitability of beer for cows. Yes, some “crazy” experimenters have fed consistently fed their cows beer.
A disruptive farmer, Darren Pluess, in Fentonadle in Cornwall, England, has challenged the convention that cows can’t drink beer.
Feeding his cows with an estimated daily beer ration of 40 pints, Darren says his cows’ health has not been negatively affected in any way. In fact, he says his cows “are completely happy and like drinking beer.”
Can Cows Drink Saltwater?
You must monitor the salinity of water you feed your cows. High-saline water can trigger salt poisoning in your cows. In other cases, high-saline water can affect the cow’s production capacity.
Can Cows Drink Alcohol?
If you have been struggling to get over the Fentonadle farmer breeding his cattle with beer, here is another one for you. Two French folks – a strange combo of a winemaker and a livestock farmer – have been consistently feeding their cows wine.
The target? To produce cows whose steaks taste better. This team has fed cows daily with 2-3 glasses of wine daily. These cows survived on this alcoholic diet, and when eventually served to reputed Michelin-starred chef Laurent Pourcel, the steak got a high rating.
According to Pourcel, the steak “has a very special texture — beautiful, marbled, and tender, and which caramelizes during cooking.”
Nonetheless, we would advise you to seek your veterinarian’s approval before introducing beer and alcohol into your cow’s diet.
Can Cows Drink Rainwater?
Yes, but this must be modest, given the slightly acidic nature of rainwater.
Why Do Cows Drink Their Own Urine?
Urophagia is a medical condition where a cow drinks its urine. This condition can be traced to metabolic disorders like metabolic acidosis and acetonemia.
The former is a condition where the cow shows a strange propensity towards consuming alkaline materials. The elevated alkaline content of cow urine consequently makes such urine savored by this ill cow.
Urophagia is prevalent in milk-producing cows whose fed poorly. Such a cow may find its urine edible given the significant amount of minerals (which is not adequately replaced due to poor roughage) it is losing in such large volumes of secreted milk. Lack of exercise and hormonal imbalances can also cause a cow to drink its urine.