Can You Eat a Cow That Died of Natural Causes?

Death is a part of life, and our cow herd is not excluded. 

Most of us who raise beef animals for meat will take it upon ourselves to slaughter and butcher cows to prepare them into edible and delicious beef. 

However, many may wonder if it’s OK to eat a cow who died of natural causes. 

Never eat a cow that died of natural causes. Natural death is often the result of disease, so the meat is not safe to eat. Animals who die naturally are not bled in the same way, which leads to further possibilities of bacteria and diseases which may potentially spread to those who eat them.

While many of us who homestead and farm hate to waste anything, it is still not safe to eat cows who pass from natural causes. 

Let’s look into why this is not safe. 

can you eat a cow that died of natural causes

What Causes Natural Death In Cows?

There are many causes of natural death in cows, but the most common are disease, organ failure, or old age. 

In many cases, the flesh of animals who have died from disease is not safe for human consumption. 

Dead animals will also quickly develop bacteria in the dead flesh and become unsafe for us to eat. 

As animals age, they experience health issues like organ failure and various diseases. 

The most common cause of natural death in cattle is respiratory issues, followed by unknown causes. 

In these cases, you likely won’t find the dead animals until after they have been dead for a bit. 

This allows bacteria and other harmful things to grow in the animal flesh, making it unsafe for consumption. 

Dead animals quickly start rotting and aren’t safe to eat. 

If you keep your cows as companions or dairy cattle in their animal habitat, you likely aren’t interested in killing them for meat. 

If you want to allow for a peaceful death for your livestock, it helps to provide a safe and comfortable space to keep the animals calm as they pass. 

Even if they die from old age, eating cow meat or the flesh of animals who have died outside of being slaughtered and butchered correctly is still not safe. 

Related: What age should you butcher a cow?

What To Do With A Cow Who Died Of Natural Causes

If you have dead animals like a cow who died of natural causes, you may wonder what to do with them. 

There are a few different options to consider.


Depending on your attachment to the cow, give it a burial as many people do for their domestic animals. 

Many people will also choose burial because it is the most accessible option to dispose of dead animals. 

Animal owners will bury the bodies of animals who have passed. 

It is important to bury the dead animals far from where the cows are to ensure there is no risk of infection or exposure to harmful bacteria or disease. 


Another common option for dead animal disposal is rendering. 

This consists of a service worker who will pick up many different classes of animals for proper disposal. 

If you are worried your farm livestock may have been diseased or has potentially contagious and harmful bacteria or infectious disease, this is a good option to avoid a dangerous situation. 

It decreases the danger to people and prevents diseased livestock from infecting the natural life of your farm animals. 


We don’t want to think about our dewy-eyed, fresh-faced animals being burned. 

However, incineration is ideal for dealing with carcasses from animals who have met their life expectancy. 

If the dead animal in question lived with other diseased or infected animals, incineration is one of the best ways to ensure infections don’t spread. 

The bacteria and infectious qualities will be removed by incinerating the animal flesh without having to bury or hire a service. 


Many of us compost our table scraps and leftover vegetables, but did you know carcasses are compostable too? 

It takes a bit of work, but it is one of the most cost-effective and environmentally friendly options for disposing of cows and other domesticated animals. 

Processing requires aeration and a location far away from where animals graze and roam. 

If you raise animals for food, you may also have a garden or pasture, which will greatly benefit from the fully composted soil produced by a cattle carcass. 

Check with local regulations for composting carcasses before attempting this on your property. 

Risks Of Eating Cows Who Died Naturally

Eating cows who die of natural causes is risky and may result in bad health issues. 

Beef processed from cows undergoes a certain process to ensure the meat’s flavor and safety are maintained. 

Meat-eating individuals should never eat from a dead animal, whether a cow or another animal. 

It is like eating food in garbage cans. 

You do not know how long it has been there and what potential mold or bacteria has grown on it. 

While cows and meat are a part of the food cycle, it is very important not to be reckless and collect meat from an unsafe source. 

Here are some of the risks of eating cows who have died from natural causes:

If the cow dies of a disease, there is a chance you may get very sick or even get the disease yourself. 

Federal regulations prohibit the sale of meat from “downed cows” and never eat one yourself. 

Cows who die of natural causes aren’t bled. 

This means they are not processed correctly. 

Not only does this make it much harder to get decent cuts, but it also increases the chances of infections. 

Blood in a carcass is a breeding ground for bacteria and increases the likelihood of something dangerous growing in the meat, making it very unsafe for human consumption. 

Older cows have tough meat, which does not taste very good compared to the beef and meat we are used to eating from ranchers. 

Related Reading: How long to hang cow meat after butchering for best taste

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Growing up amidst the sprawling farms of the South, Wesley developed a profound connection with farm animals from a young age. His childhood experiences instilled in him a deep respect for sustainable and humane farming practices. Today, through, Wesley shares his rich knowledge, aiming to inspire and educate others about the joys and intricacies of rural life.

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