What Makes A Cow Stop Eating?

For optimum meat and milk production and optimum health, cows need to eat regularly and well. That’s why dairy farmers, ranchers and small homesteaders are well advised to invest solidly in high quality feed and forage for their cattle. Unfortunately, sometimes even the best of feed and the best intentions of the keeper cannot entice a cow to eat. Why does this happen? What makes a cow stop eating? What can you do about it? In this article, we answer these questions and more.

Top Six Reasons A Cow May Stop Eating

reasons a cow may stop eating

1. Satisfaction

If a cow’s rumen is full, she doesn’t want or need to eat any more. In some instances, this is not a reason for concern; however, if your feed consists of too much neutral detergent fiber (NDF) this reason for not eating can be a problem.

NDF is very bulky, and is necessary for good health in cattle, but too much of it will cause your cattle to feel a false satisfaction. They may feel as if they have had plenty to eat, but they are not getting enough nutrition. This naturally leads to malnourishment and ill health.

For optimum health, a cow should eat about 1.3% of her total body weight in NDF every day. Keep a close eye on the labeling of your feed. The percentage of NDF can change from time to time. If and when it does, you’ll need to adjust your feeding accordingly.

2. Unbalanced pH Levels

When a cow has finished eating, the pH level in the rumen drops. This is when the cow begins ruminating, a process that supplies the rumen with salivary sodium bicarbonate. The purpose of this natural chemical is to buffer the acidity caused by the introduction of food to the rumen.

Unfortunately, a condition known as SARA (sub acute rumen acidosis) may trigger cows to stop eating prematurely. If your cows are not eating enough and are losing condition, your vet will need to perform a test called rumenocentesis. This involves evaluation of samples of the rumen fluid.

To avoid development of this disease, you should work closely with your vet to formulate a balanced diet for your cattle. If your herd already has SARA, balanced feeding can help mitigate the damage and manage the condition. Be sure that your feed mixture is well mixed and is not excessively dry.

3. Insufficient Feed

Cattle should always have something handy to nibble on. If you try to save money on feed by feeding only as much as your cattle will eat in a given time, you run the risk of having them develop EBS (empty bunk syndrome).

If your cattle are hungry, and there is no feed available to them, their appetite and ability to eat may diminish. It’s a good idea to feed dairy cows directly after milking because they will be hungry then. This will stimulate them to eat well.

It’s best to have them stop eating naturally when there is still 5-10% of the feed left. They can nibble on this as they need to until the next feeding. Keep good hay available at all times.

4. Sickness

Sick (especially those with a fever) or lame cattle often lose their appetites. Cattle who are in a state of ketosis (low blood sugar levels) or those who have been fed too much dextrose and have excessively high blood sugar levels don’t eat, and may actually remain down. If you suspect illness, call on the vet for a proper diagnosis and treatment.

How To Tell If Your Cattle Are Sick

5. Bullying

Don’t overcrowd your cattle, and keep an eye on them to make sure none are being chased away from the feeder. Cows need to be able to get to the feed easily, without having to fight for it. They should be able to eat at an unhurried pace and have plenty of space to rest and ruminate when they are done eating.

6. Stress & Discomfort

During hot weather, too much heat and/or too little ventilation can cause cattle to lose their appetites. Be sure your cattle are able to get out of the hot sun and drink as much water as they like. Barns and loafing sheds should be open to the air during hot, dry summer months. Install fans as needed to improve air circulation and ventilation.

Apparently the cows in this horrible setting don’t want whatever is in that bucket. No mystery here!

A Cow Refuses To Eat Your Food

Nicky Ellis
Nicky has been an editor at Farm & Animals since 2019. Farm animals have been in her life from her earliest memories, and she learned to ride a horse when she was 5. She is a mom of three who spends all her free time with her family and friends, her mare Joy, or just sipping her favorite cup of tea.

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