Some of the following facts are important to know if you are a rancher--it determines how you handle cattle and what you feed them. But other things are just for fun! I wanted you to know some of the interesting things about cattle.
- A cow only has front teeth on the bottom jaw. They eat grass, so the most important teeth for a cow are the back molars that chew. The tongue is very important to a cow.
- The cow's tongue is very long and very strong. To eat grass, they actually tear it from the roots. They wrap their tongue around it and close their jaws on it. Since they don't have top incisor teeth, they can't cut it off. So if you look at grass that a cow has eaten, it is ragged and torn. If a horse eats it, it is cropped very short and smooth.
- The tongue is rough and scratchy, somewhat like a cat's. But cows don't lap water like cats, instead they suck it up.
- Cows have four compartments to their stomach, allowing them to digest grass and hay. When a cow tears grass from the ground, they roll it in their mouth and chew it a bit to roll it into a small ball, called a bolus. They then swallow the bolus and it goes to the rumen. The rumen is the largest compartment of their stomach in which the grass and hay begin to break down.
- A cow can eat on the run--it gives a new meaning to fast food! Cows eat grass fast, consuming as much as they can in a short time. After a time, they lie down or find a nice place to rest and regurgitate the grass boluses back into their mouth to chew again. This is called "chewing their cud." Cows who are relaxed and well fed may spend a lot of their day chewing their cud! After the bolus is chewed again, the cow swallows it and it starts to move through the rest of the digestive tract until it finally reaches the true stomach, the abomasum where digestion similar to that of a human's stomach takes place.
- Each individual cow does have a personality. Some are naturally more calm, curious or easily frightened! Certain bloodlines are known for different personalities. My kids all enjoy showing yearling heifers--they get to know them and the cow learns to trust my kids. I talk about show heifers in a previous blog post: Pampered Little Pets.
- Cattle are prey animals and are mostly concerned with staying safe, but they can be encouraged and taught to handle new situations well. The perfect example of that is taking them to a fairgrounds where they have never been before, and with their kid at the halter leading them from the trailer and around the fairgrounds, they are calm and comfortable.
- Cows, bulls and baby calves all "talk" differently. Of course, I can't understand exactly what they are saying, and it would be easy to project human talk to them, but I can hear the differences in their "moo!" Bulls often moo louder and deeper. If they are within sight of a strange bull or cows, they will "beller" deep and with their head in an aggressive position. A cow who is talking to her calf will moo softly and short--encouraging her calf to get up and nurse. A cow who is looking for her calf will call loud and long--the "typical" moo that you think of. When a calf is scared or surprised, his startled moo will bring every cow running to his help! If he is just curious and calls to me, no cows even look his way. And when I drive into the pasture with the feed truck ALL the cattle (bulls, cows and calves) come running and calling to me! I know it is me...not the truck! Yeah, whatever.
The fun facts can go on and on...but I need to get back outside with the cattle! Can you tell I just really LIKE cattle!?