Cow milk consumption is considered healthy for people who do not suffer from lactose intolerance.
Cow’s milk is a major source of nutrients necessary for development and contains large amounts of vitamin D, vitamin K, and calcium.
Calves drink milk after birth to receive colostrum, which is vital to their growth and gives them a chance at life.
A bottle calf will develop better cognitive development by drinking bovine milk instead of a milk replacer.
But is it possible for an adult cow to drink its own milk?
It is very rare, but a cow can drink its own milk. A cow might drink its milk from a nearby bucket out of curiosity, or it will drink milk from its own body. To do this, the cow will lie down and drink from its udder, which is known as self-suckling.
Self-suckling creates various problems for the cow, including possible damage to the udder and teats.
When a cow is drinking its milk, there will be a rapid drop in the milk supply for the dairy farmer.
Many dairy farmers send self-suckling cows to the slaughterhouse due to a loss in profits and the chance of milk contamination.
Read on to learn why a cow would drink its milk and if it is safe for the animal.
Why Would a Cow Drink Its Own Milk?
There are many theories about why a cow would drink its milk.
A curious cow may see a bucket of milk nearby and drink it just to see what it is like.
According to several farmers, cows drink their milk as a response to the discomfort of an engorged udder after not being milked.
The cow may also drink its milk to soothe the pain of giving birth.
Some cows may even drink their own milk because of a mineral deficiency.
Unfortunately, once a cow starts drinking its milk, it is a tough habit to break.
A spiked ring may be put on the cow’s nose, but this does not always discourage self-suckling behavior.
Further Reading: Reasons and history of cow nose rings
In extreme cases, the cow may attempt to suckle other cows.
A self-suckling cow is unsanitary due to possible contaminants like harmful bacteria and animal feces on the udder, which increases the chance of milk contamination.
Conditions in milk processing are much more sanitary, and the milk is pasteurized to remove any possible bacteria before it is sold to consumers.
Most self-suckling cows unable to break the habit are sent to the slaughterhouse because of the possible milk contamination and decreased productivity.
What Happens When an Adult Cow Drinks Its Own Milk?
When a cow drinks its milk, it may cause damage to the udder and teats.
This is because udders are not meant to be suckled by animals as large as an adult cow.
There is also an increased risk of a self-suckling cow developing mastitis.
Mastitis causes the udder to become very swollen and painful, usually caused by being milked too often or bacterial infection.
A cow with mastitis will be very uncomfortable and may refuse to eat, resulting in malnutrition.
The cow will also have other symptoms, such as lethargy, fever, and digestive issues.
Ice is usually placed on the udder to relieve the inflammation, and if a bacterial infection causes mastitis, an animal vet may prescribe antibiotics.
The animal may also suffer from other health issues if the cow is drinking its own milk because of a mineral deficiency.
Adding a vitamin and mineral supplement may be necessary to prevent the cow from self-suckling and help in recovery.
Adult cows lack the digestive enzymes needed to break down lactose molecules.
If an adult cow drinks too much milk, it may develop diarrhea, which harms animal health and productivity.
Is It Safe to Give Milk to a Cow?
While cows do generally not drink milk, giving them a limited quantity of milk is safe in certain situations.
If a cow has recently given birth and is suffering from hypocalcemia, also known as milk fever, she may be given milk from another cow to replenish her calcium levels.
However, in large amounts, milk is unhealthy for a cow to drink.
Once a calf has transitioned from drinking milk to drinking water, it slowly loses the enzymes need to digest lactose.
While many animal species rely on milk for nutrients during their first months of life, most adult mammals become lactose intolerant as they age.
Lactose intolerance has the same effect on cows as it does on humans.
Adult cows will experience digestive issues like diarrhea if they drink a lot of milk.
While diarrhea is a temporary side effect, the cow must drink lots of water to prevent dehydration.
The cow may need vitamin supplements to replace essential nutrients in severe cases.
Reasons Why Adult Cows Do Not Drink Milk
Aside from being unable to digest lactose, there are several reasons why adult cows do not drink milk.
They Do Not Need It
Calves need milk for several weeks to receive nutrients for healthy growth because their stomach is not developed enough to digest solid foods.
Once the calf drinks water and has transitioned to eating grass and grains, lactase enzyme production begins to taper off.
When the cow becomes an adult, and its rumen is fully developed, it no longer needs milk.
Adult cows receive adequate nutrients by eating forage, grass, and grains.
They Are Not Allowed to Drink Milk
Since milk is the primary source of profit for dairy farmers, they do not allow their adult cows to drink milk.
The only time a commercial milk cow is given milk on a farm is if the animal has recently given birth or has a mineral deficiency.
In limited amounts, milk helps to restore a cow’s calcium levels without causing digestive issues.
A dairy farmer is not likely to sacrifice profits to give an adult cow milk if the animal is healthy and does not need it.
Drinking Milk Is Not Sustainable for Them
Adult cows have not evolved to drink milk because it does not provide them with the necessary nutrients.
It would take more energy for the cow to produce the milk than it would receive by drinking it.
Adult cows receive their nutrients from forage, grass, and grain.
The nutrients a cow receives from solid foods give them the energy they need to perform daily tasks.
Milk may be given in small amounts to an adult cow under special circumstances, but it could never become an alternative to its regular diet.