Why Does a Cow Chew Its Cud?
Chewing a cud is the way a cow digests its food thoroughly. A cow has a special stomach with a storage section called a “rumen.” When the cow eats some grass, she chews it just enough to moisten it. The food collects in the rumen, where it is softened and formed into a ball called a “cud.”
Later, when the cow is resting, the cud moves back up into the cow’s mouth for careful chewing. After that, the food is swallowed into other parts of its stomach for more complete digestion. Cows must chew their food twice in order to digest it properly.
Cows spend nearly eight hours out of every day chewing their cud. This plus normal chewing of food can total upwards of 40,000 jaw movements per day. Cud chewing is often used as an indicator of a healthy and comfortable herd. A happy, healthy animal will produce more milk or have a higher production of muscle.
Animals who do not chew their cud properly may be scared or have digestive issues such as twisted stomachs or a displaced abomasum, their fourth section of stomach. Feeding high quality forages will help to ensure the cows are digesting and chewing their cud properly.
Since cattle are “flight” animals meaning they run from danger, they don’t fight back; it is thought that the original reason for the double digestion was to let the animal eat as much as they could before needing to flee the area. Then they would bring the forage back up to properly digest it at a later, safer time.
Cud chewing is also necessary because the foods ruminant animals eat are difficult to digest and it takes extra effort to get all of the nutrients from the food. Other examples of ruminant animals include deer, camels, buffalo, goat’s sheep and giraffes.