What makes a cow stop eating? According to Oregon State University, to ensure optimum milk production and overall health a cow must be fed at least 20 hours a day.
They eat much more when they are producing milk, and the appetite gradually decreases until calving when food intake goes up again.
In this article, we will talk about how a cow stops eating and what you can do about it.
Why has my cow stopped eating?
Cows need a constant supply of energy for milk production, growth, and keeping warm. This comes mainly from carbohydrates in the form of grains, grass, or silage – all supplemented with protein-rich legumes such as soya beans.
However, a cow may stop eating for several reasons:
- There is something wrong with the diet
- Something is bothering her (pain or injury)
- Rotten Feed
- Poor Living Conditions
Any one of these problems will cause a cow to eat less. If this continues, she may stop eating completely. This can be dangerous because it leads to nutrient deficiencies and weight loss. That makes her more likely to get sick – which can also make her stop eating.
1.There is something wrong with the diet
Change in the diet is what makes a cow stop eating most of the time. This is most common with a sudden change of diet – for example, fresh grass coming through after a period of conserved forage or high starch diet, such as silage.
It can happen when the grass is of poor quality and there is not enough energy in it – perhaps because there has been insufficient rain during the summer, so it has dried off too quickly, leaving the nutrients locked up inside. This would be called “lush pasture” in NZ.
Cows also stop eating when they are put on a diet that is too rich or contains materials they have not been fed before. Cattle have a gut of tiny “fingers” called villi. These absorb nutrients from what the cow eats. If she eats something new, it takes time for these villi to change and adapt to the new food. In that period, she will not get all the nutrition from her food and may stop eating.
This is often a problem when cattle are brought onto rich spring pasture after wintering on conserved forage such as hay or silage. Cows simply don’t get enough energy in these conditions to make them hungry. Their appetite will only increase when the grass comes through.
2. Something is bothering her (pain or injury)
This can be a problem if there are sharp stones in the digestive system, which may get stuck in the rumen and irritate the cow. If she cannot swallow properly, she may stop eating because of pain. This could happen after indigestion or attack by the “worm of the month”.
Another common cause is lameness. If a cow cannot eat properly because she is in pain, it will slow down her gut movement and may lead to indigestion. This means that food passes through too quickly for her to absorb all the nutrients, so she starts losing weight.
Cows also stop eating when they are in pain after calving – either from mastitis or arthritis, for example. They might not eat enough to keep up their milk production, which can lead quickly to serious problems if it continues.
If you suspect she is lame or unwell, the best thing you can do is take her temperature – if it is high, it will be worth consulting your vet. A vet would diagnose what makes a cow stop eating more accurately.
3. Rotten Feed
The rotten feed can also make cows stop eating. This is most often a problem in the winter when hay gets wet and moldy, or in very hot weather when silage goes “off”. If this happens, it means that some of the nutrients in the feed are no longer available for digestion, so she eats less – sometimes significantly less.
Cows may also refuse to eat stale silage – this occurs when there’s not enough air getting into the pit. Sometimes they will eat if you break open the bale and expose the middle, but they still do not want to go near it.
It can be tempting at this point to spread more salt on the silage to encourage her back onto it, but salt should never be used as a reward – it should be used for the sole purpose of maintaining rumen function.
4. Poor Living Conditions
Cows may stop eating if they are overcrowded, or if their living conditions are too dirty. They will not eat if they have no space to move about and rest, or if there is a draught blowing through the feeding area. If cows stand around in wet mud for hours on end, they may stop drinking too, to avoid getting dirty.
The feeder or water trough can cause problems if it is the wrong height for the cow to eat or drink properly. If the cow cannot reach into the feeder, she may not eat enough to keep up her milk production, which can lead quickly to serious problems.
Cows stop eating when they are too cold or too hot. Make sure your cows have a dry, well-bedded shed to keep them warm and comfortable. Also, make sure there is plenty of ventilation in the stable – changes in outside temperature may make it necessary to open windows during hot weather.
How do I get my cow to eat? How do you stimulate a cow’s appetite?
The most important thing is to identify the problem and deal with it. If she is unwell, get her checked by the vet. If it is environmental, move her to a better place.
The cow’s appetite will improve automatically once she has been treated and is feeling better – but you can help speed up the process by ensuring she eats enough of the right food at every meal.
If you suspect your cow doesn’t have all of the nutrients she needs in her diet, try mixing some calf pellets into her daily ration. This will restore magnesium and protein levels very quickly. If you suspect there are stones in the digestive system, add salt to increase fluid intake and wash them down when they pass through the rumen.
You can also make sure your cows have access to plenty of loose minerals or free-choice salt if she is not eating enough to meet their daily requirements.
Making sure your cows have enough food and water will help them put on weight quickly, which will improve their appetite. Ensure your cows have access to plenty of clean, fresh water at all times – this is very important when they are pregnant.
How long can a cow go without eating?
Another question you may be asking is how long can a cow go without eating. It is important to always maintain your cow’s appetite. However, if she goes for three days without eating anything at all and has no health problems, you can let her go one more day.
If she is very weak, the best thing you can do is take her temperature – if it is high, contact your vet immediately. If it is not, give her a drink of water mixed with an electrolyte powder every hour until she starts eating again.
According to previous research and seasoned breeders, cattle can go for up to seven days without drinking water, which is shorter than the 60 days they may survive without food.
How do you know if a cow is dying?
Please do not let your cows die in the field. They are not meant for this. If they stop eating, contact your vet immediately to see whether or not there’s anything wrong with them.
You can also make sure she is fed electrolytes to keep her strength up until you get the chance to visit her stall.
So what makes a cow stop eating? In conclusion, the main thing to remember is that there are many reasons why cows stop eating. Sometimes, if you pay attention and identify the problem, it can be fixed very quickly.
If your cow does stop eating, don’t panic – just stay calm and contact your vet immediately or visit your local cattle supply store for advice on what to do next. Nothing is ever as bad as it seems.
Cows are one of the most important parts of life on a farm, so make sure you take care of them. They are much more valuable than their beef or milk!
We hope you enjoyed the article, feel free to comment below and tell us your thoughts!
Sarah Lane has been a farm wife since 2010 and mother of two children for nearly as long. She and her husband, Jonathan, live on a small farm in Texas where they raise dairy goats and beef cattle as well as chickens for eggs and meat. In addition to growing their own hay, straw and garden produce, the Lane family works with other nearby farms to source organic grain from which they make artisan bread sold at local farmer’s market.