Can Cows Digest Corn?

Cows Digest Corn

Cattle rearing has grown tremendously over the years placing great pressure on resources. As a consequence, the cost of livestock feed is continuously on the rise. Since corn is widely grown in most parts of the world, a significant amount of research has been directed towards determining its benefits and effects to health, growth as well as production. Most importantly, the agricultural community has been focused on finding out whether cows can digest corn. Results indicate that cows cannot digest corn, however, when rations are properly managed and skilfully introduced to cows, they are able to feed on corn. Since cows cannot digest corn, failure to properly manage feed rations may result in a number of digestive issues that may even be detrimental.

Table of Contents

Corn Based Diets for Cows

The digestive system of cows is designed for grass and similar feedstuff. As such, although they are able to consume a number of other feedstuff that are primarily not meant for them, these may result in some health related issues. Cows cannot digest corn particularly if the rations are excessive. According to experts, despite the popular practise of feeding cows with corn, one of the problems with this system is that cows cannot digest corn. This is because it creates all sorts of problems for them. Corn is too starchy and so it is not ideal for the cow rumen meant to digest grass. As such, they are liable to get sick after the consumption of corn. When including corn in livestock dietary plans, it is of the utmost importance to ensure that portions are gradually increased. A sudden change in diet is not advisable as cows cannot digest corn, especially when they have not been trained to feed on such feedstuff. It therefore advisable for farmers to have some form of understanding on the appropriate means of introducing cows to corn feed.

Digestion of Corn Supplements

Ruminants digest feed in a different manner from monogastric animals. Since cows are ruminants, their stomach consist of four chambers which are responsible for digestion. During the digestion process, feed is brought up after swallowing for a process known as rumination. The protein found in corn is not ideal for digestion. Corn is a rich source of what is known as ‘escape’ protein. Most of this type of protein is degraded in the stomach of the cow thereby limiting the amount of protein available to breakdown feed. Experts point out that scape proteins cannot be fermented by micro-organisms in the cow’s rumen and so adversely affects the digestive process as proteins are needed to breakdown feed including corn. As clearly indicated, cows cannot digest corn. For this reason, quantities should be limited and it has to be mixed with complementary feedstuff. When introducing corn, make sure to provide livestock with antibiotics as their digestive system experiences some form of disturbance.  Note that gradual application of corn and use of antibiotics are effective ways of training cows to digest corn.

What Happens When a Cow Eats Too Much Corn?

Cows with dietary plans consisting of corn are susceptible to bloat caused by indigestion. This is because cows cannot digest corn properly. When a cow eats too much corn, rumination is affected which in turn prevents them from releasing gas. Consequentially, the cow becomes bloated. If this problem is not managed timeously, the cow might suffocate and in severe cases die. As earlier mentioned, the amount of ‘escape’ protein found in corn prevents rumination; this negatively impacts on the maintenance of appropriate pH levels in the rumen.  Since cows cannot digest corn, the rumen can ulcerate or acidify resulting in a number of health related issues including heartburn and liver abscesses. To prevent the occurrence of health related problems, cows are provided with antibiotics. In general terms, cows cannot digest corn, nonetheless, this may be made possible through proper ration management and appropriate additives such as antibiotics.

Is It Bad For Cows To Eat Corn?

While there has been a dramatic increase in livestock feed costs, corn prices have significantly declined which has led to some farmers exchanging store-bought feed for corn supplementary diets. Although this might seem like a great idea, caution should be taken because cows cannot digest corn, especially if it is provided in excessive amounts. Nonetheless, if the feeding management system is properly managed, corn can eat corn. Despite the fact that naturally cows cannot digest corn, their digestive system can be trained. Experts state that this can be made possible through the provision of antibiotics. In fact, nowadays corn makes up an important part of livestock dietary plans. When providing cows with corn feed supplements, it is necessary to ensure that it does not make up their overall dietary plan. Ideally, a dietary plan consisting of corn should also include a mixture of different feed stuff in appropriate rations. Research has revealed that when corn is availed in the right quantities and mixed with relevant feed, livestock health and performance is enhanced. It is stated that cows with a properly managed corn diet mature faster than their counterparts and produce an increased milk yield. The recommended ration for corn supplements range between 2kg to 3kg per day depending on the cow’s growth or production stage.

According to veterinary medical professionals, it is bad for cows to eat corn. However, it can be introduced to the livestock in a wise manner eliminating risk of diseases. High energy, low-protein feedstuff that do not stimulate digestion should be gradually introduced to cows. Note that the importance of additives and antibiotics during this stage cannot be over emphasized. Failure to provide animals with sufficient supplements causes negative effects to fibre digestion. As such, adequate protein is not provided to the rumen microbes to stimulate growth of fibre digestion. Rumen microbes will preferentially digest the starch before they digest fibre thereby decreasing fibre digestion. Note that although it is bad for cows to eat corn, this applies to excessive rations of more than 3kg. Cows can digest corn and so are able to feed on it in limited amounts.