Do Cows Eat Hay? Feeding Precautions

Hay is an important source of nutrition for many farm animals. It’s a mixture of grasses and legumes that farm animals and birds get to eat as a meal. Hay is handy and affordable, it’s one of the reasons why livestock farmers chose it for domestic animals. We have seen horses being entertained with hay, do cows get treated the same way or not? 

For the record, hay is just as beneficial for pigs, sheep, goats as it is for horses. Is it nutritional and safe for cows as well? Let’s find out. 

Do Cows Eat Hay?

Yes, cows eat hay all the time. In fact, this farm animal has been eating hay for several hundred thousand years. The livestock farmers would continue to feed hay as there are a million reasons to do so.

This low protein and high fiber animal feed is a source of energy and nutrition for cows, horses, sheep, goats, and some other farm animals as well.

Besides the nutrients and flavor, it’s handy and affordable. So, why would a livestock farmer not prefer it over the other typical cow feed?

Why Do We Choose Hay to Feed Cows?

Hay is chosen for a million reasons. It’s impossible to list down all of them. However, the few worth-knowing ones are;

  • It’s good and flavorful enough to eat.
  • It can be stored. 
  • It is fed for the sake of nutrients and energy. Both grass and mixed hay contain a good amount of fiber, calcium, phosphorus, copper, zinc, and crude protein. Cows need all these nutrients to live a healthy balanced life.
  • It is chosen because the protein and mineral content in hay is more stable than any other feed option.
  •  It is stored under average storage conditions.
  • It does not demand much to maintain a healthy diet.
  • It protects the animal’s digestive health.
  • It meets the criteria of a healthy farm animal feed because it helps with growth, reproduction, and digestive issues.
  • It’s a mixture of several animal-friendly types of grass; timothy, fescue, brome, bermudagrass, orchard grass, ryegrass, and legumes like clovers, and alfalfa hay , etc. 
  • It can be eaten every day without any harm. 
  • It improves the quality and flavor of milk and meat. 
  • It’s an affordable option. 
  • It minimizes the forage requirement. 
  • It is chosen because not all cows have sufficient access to pasture. 

In fact, for the past few years, livestock farmers are switching to hay because it’s more flavorful than the typical cow feed

It’s super hard to step into a cow’s shoe and judge whether they like eating hay or not. However, the said animal would prefer it over the typical cow feed as it’s more flavorful.

It appears that if the cows do not like it, they do not hate it either. Since cows do not mind eating hay twice a day, it’s handy and nutritional, the livestock farmers do not see a reason not to choose it over the typical cow feed. 

And then it is a balanced source of nutrients, why would it not be fed? 

As mentioned above, hay contains a good amount of calcium, copper, zinc, fiber, and phosphorus. All the nutrients are needed for the cow’s health and wellness. 

Calcium is required for several important functions like gastrointestinal motility, skeletal muscles strength, skeleton tissue, and smooth muscle and nerve function.

If the cows do not get adequate calcium every day, they begin to suffer from muscle weakness, increased heart rate, subnormal temperature, loss of consciousness, and sternal recumbency. 

Just like every other nutrient, copper is demanded for several functions; bone growth, nerves, and red blood cell formation. More importantly, it assists in building a stronger immune system. 

Zinc is an essential mineral nutrient for cows that is involved in carbohydrate metabolism, protein synthesis, and some biochemical reactions. Moreover, zinc is also known for helping cows with reproductive functions like normal postpartum, improved conception rate, and stronger estrus cycles. So, how would a feed that supplies a balanced amount of zinc effortlessly be not fed? 

Hay is rich in fiber as the hay producers know how important fiber is for dairy cattle. The dairy cattle require fiber to maintain health and rumen function.

Other than rumination, it also assists in maintaining a normal rumen mat, normal rumen pH, normal fat test, chewing, and saliva production. 

Let alone cows, all animals need a good amount of phosphorus in their diets. This crucial nutrient is demanded not just to transfer energy but for stronger bones, and teeth as well.

Best Hay to Feed for Cows

Frankly, fresh hay is safe to feed however, feeding the stored one is not recommended. It will not only harm the animal but livestock keepers as well.

The hay exposure is not ideal for people that are hypersensitive to airborne allergens. 

The improperly stored hay gets moldy, the moldy hay can cause abortions and various illnesses. Hay is also not the best option to feed because it’s not as nutritional as the pasture.

Moreover, the stored hay keeps losing nutrients every single day so when it is brought out to feed the cattle it might not be as nutritional as the feed should be. 

Other than the health issues and nutritional loss, natural decay, mold, and bacteria growth cause hay waste, and the farmers have to pay several hundred thousand dollars extra every year to bring fresh hay to feed. 

However, this issue can be successfully avoided if the livestock keepers do not buy hay in bulk, or choose to bring fresh hay every day to feed the animal.

There are some precautionary measures as well that help in preventing the hay from getting moldy.

To feed hay safely, the livestock keeper has to know the difference between good and bad quality and fresh and moldy hay. 

Summary 

Yes, cows, horses, pigs, sheep, and some other farm animals eat hay all the time. This low-protein high-fiber feed is a great source of nutrients and energy for these animals.

Despite being expensive and highly perishable, it is still chosen because it meets the criteria of healthy farm animal feed,

  • Minimizes the forage requirement,
  • More flavorful, a mixture of several types of grass and legumes,
  • Has all the required nutrients,
  • The most stable protein and mineral content,
  • Requires average storage conditions,
  • Protects digestive health, and improves the milk and meat flavor.

The cows and other farm animals eat hay all the time however, the livestock should not rely on the hay alone.

The fresh hay is safe and healthy whereas the improperly stored hay gets moldy within days.

The moldy hay is not good for the environment, livestock keepers who are hypersensitive to airborne allergens, and the animals as well. The moldy hay causes abortions and several health issues. 

Sources

  • Hi, I am Talon Juper, a passionate farmer, and Livestock Expert. I have done my graduation in Agriculture and Animal breeding. Relevant to Farm Desire as a research writer and data recorder.

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