In general, how do herbivores become so big if they don't eat meat? If cows eat only grass, how do they get all the necessary nutrients to become big? Curious.
Even though grass is poor in nutrition cows eat a LOT! It is hard to digest BUT cows have a digestive system that is adapted to a grass diet. They have very specialized teeth to take in a large quantity of grass which is then swallowed with very little chewing. This grass goes into the cows first stomach. Then while the cow is resting it regurgitates this half chewed or unchewed grass and chews it with molars that are specialized to grind this grass to pulp. Then it is reswallowed and sent to the second stomach. In the 2nd through 4th stomachs the cow breaks down virtually all traces of protein. Bacteria which feed on the cellulose here also release proteins. Then it goes into the intestines. Here the cellulose is attacked by bacteria and those bacteria release vitamins and minerals into the intestine. Thus, cows get the maximum nutrition from what they eat.
The nutrients are absorbed (osmosis) and filtered.
the Green is not used and mostly ends up as dung and urine.
Most cows today are not fed a diet of grass but instead are fed feed that consists of corn, hormones, antibiotics and other ingredients that are not generally a natural part of their grazing diet. Combine this with factory farming and you get cows who spend most of their days shackled up in small stalls with milking tubes attached to their udders.
This does not make for a healthy cow who would get regular exercise had they been allowed to roam and graze on farmland.
Milk appears white because of the light reflecting off the colloidal particles of the milk emulsion. Milk really has no color because nothing is being absorbed in it. It's pretty much transparent.
If you're interested in getting leaner beef, go to a high-end butcher or gourmet market and ask if they carry grass (or grain)-fed beef. You will notice the difference as corn-fed cows produce a sweeter tasting beef.
About our Cows
The total amount of grazing land that we have at MCNF suitable for keeping cows is 1315 hectares. That sounds like a lot of land and you’d think that would be room enough for thousands of cows, but when you do things as naturally as we do, there are a lot of factors to take into account when deciding how many cows we can comfortably, happily and healthily accommodate.
Firstly, we have to make sure there is enough nutrition for the animals in the paddocks. Just like we need different fruits and veggies to keep us healthy, cows need variety in their diet to keep them healthy. We also have to make sure that we look after the paddocks (the plants, the soil and the little critters that live under the ground). That means it’s important to move the cattle to different paddocks so that one area doesn’t get over grazed or eaten out. It also keeps the cows happy because naturally they are curious and like to explore new areas. This practice of resting paddocks also gives us the opportunity to use our Biodynamic practices to really re-vitalize the life force in the ground.
Another factor to consider is that each adult cow will often have a baby calf that she is still feeding and an older calf that has been weaned off milk and now eats only grasses (they’re called weeners and have been moved into a different paddock so that the new calves don’t have to compete for mum’s attention). When calculating how many cattle we should have on the land we refer to a cow, her calf, the weener and the bull needed to get her pregnant as a “cow unit”. So, one “cow unit” may equal 3 cows of various ages and a bit of a bull! We have 1 bull for about 30 cows and that’s a nice balance. If you have too many bulls, they can fight for the attention of the ladies!
Then of course we have to factor in the weather and that’s one of the biggest challenges in deciding how to operate any farming enterprise. If there’s no rain followed by sunshine, plants just don’t grow very well and there’s not as much feed for the animals.
So … when all things are normal (the paddocks are healthy and the weather is predictable – ha!) on our 1315 hectares we carry 300 cow units.
Our Ruby Reds
We breed Devon cattle, or “Ruby Reds” as they are often called. They are big, tough and quiet with nice big horns, just as cattle are suppose to have. Most people don’t even know that cows naturally have horns! For so long humans have been removing or breeding the horns off cattle for their own convenience, not because it is better for the animal’s health or welfare.
Our method of ‘free range, biodynamic, grass eating cattle farming’ may seem a little complicated when you compare it to the modern approach of ‘grain eating cattle in feed lots’. But keep reading and you’ll see it’s really important for the cows and our health to keep it natural, and it’s still not as complicated as trying to keep cattle healthy in an unnatural environment.
If you’ve ever seen a feed lot you’ll know they have large numbers of cattle in small fenced areas, on concrete, eating grain from feed troughs. It’s all so unnatural! (Cattle are herbivores and therefore need to eat grass, legumes and pulses – NOT GRAIN!) There’s never any sign of grass to eat or lay down in and because the environment is so unnatural they end up needing artificial chemicals to keep them alive and fat, it’s pretty sad!
A lot of people are now aware of how much healthier eggs are from ‘free ranging’ chickens than ‘cage’ or ‘barn’ chickens but because of clever marketing seem to think that grain fed beef is really good. Think about it – how is a cow stuck in an unnatural yard, eating an unnatural diet, getting unnatural chemicals, healthier than one wandering, stress free, munching fresh food, laying in the sunshine on fresh grass? It’s a no brainer really!
Chewing The Cud
To give you an example of how this ‘lifestyle choice’ (for the humans) affects cattle’s health, lets “chew the cud” a little. Have you heard that expression? It’s an old saying people use to describe what they feel like when they relax, ponder and think about ideas to really get all the goodness out of them. What it actually means – is the process of digestion used by cattle. See, a cow’s digestive system is quite different to ours. They have a 4 compartment stomach. How it works, is they wander around eating lots of grass in big clumps, they swallow without chewing properly and the grass gets stored in the first compartment of their stomach called the Rumen, which acts as a sort of holding tank. Then, when they are resting, they cough it back up (now its called cud) and have a really good munch on it. As they cough up, chew well and swallow again, over and over – which can take hours – the food gets broken down and all of the nutrients are absorbed into their body. This cud chewing is a natural and necessary part of a healthy cow’s life, but it doesn’t always happen. When cattle only eat already processed grains like in a feed lot, the food particles are already so small, the instinct to regurgitate it isn’t stimulated and the food goes straight through their system. Without the cud chewing process a lot of the goodness in the food is lost.
There’s also a lot of research that has been done into Omega-3 and Omega-6 (the essential fatty acids that we all need to be healthy) and all of the evidence that we have come across definitely indicates that grass fed beef (and the eggs that come from our grass fed chickens) have a much, much better ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 than grain fed animals. Here’s a bit of science about fatty acids and human health for you …“While the metabolic products of omega-6 acids promote inflammation, blood clotting and tumor growths, the omega-3 acids act entirely opposite. It is important to maintain a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 in the diet as these two substances work together to promote health”.
And about cattle … “Diet can significantly alter the fatty acid composition in fed cattle. Cattle fed primarily grass enhanced the omega-3 content of beef by 60% and also produces a more favorable omega-6 to omega-3 ratio. Conventional [grain fed] beef contains a 4:1 6:3 ratio while grass only diets produce a 2:1 6:3 ratio”.
So, when you eat grass fed meat you are giving your body a much healthier meal – And … it tastes heaps better too!
You can read the full article here if you like:
or google it, there’s heaps of references out there.
So next time you eat beef – ask if its grass fed and where it lived. Better still, try and always eat only “organic or biodynamic grass fed beef”, your body will love you for it, and you’ll know that the cow lived a happy and healthy life.
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