Cows eat grass, right? Most cattle get a mixture of fresh grass, stored hay in the wintertime, and, if they’re conventionally raised or finished, a mixture of grains and other add-ins to fatten them up. But how do cattle get so large solely existing off grass, a fiber, for part or all of their lives? Keep reading to learn about the cow’s digestive system and the interesting ways in which it works. For more on cattle nutrition, visit our blog on our website

Don’t cows eat grass?
They are ingesting grass, but that’s not really what’s providing them with their nutrition (for more on how cows gain weight from what they eat, check this out). A cow’s gut is filled with bacteria. While cows eat grass to live, they’re actually eating grass to provide the bacteria with nutrition. Those bacteria are able to break down fibers and cellulose and use them as a meal, and then the cows can feed off the bacteria. Fermentation is actively happening in the cow’s gut.

What’s fermentation?
Cow stomachs and beer brewing are similar processes. Fermentation is when bacteria work to break down a substance. In alcohol fermentation, sugars are converted into ethyl alcohol. In cattle, bacteria break down the grass to replicate and nourish the cattle. When the cattle get their nutrients by absorbing these bacteria, they receive complete nutrition to keep them healthy, including tons of protein.

How does the digestive system work?
In elementary school, we’re taught that cows have four stomachs. It’s helpful to think of it as one stomach with four chambers. In the first chamber, microbes are sent to break down the incoming raw plant material. In the second and third sections, these microbes mixed with broken-down plant bits are drained of water and fatty acids. In the fourth, enzymes and acids are sent to rip apart the remaining bits of microbes to give absorbable nutrients to the cow in the intestines. 

We hope you’ve enjoyed this interesting look into how cattle get their protein from a diet consisting mostly of fiber. To get our delicious and nutritious grass-fed beef, submit an order form on our website