What do cows eat anyway?


I’m not terribly involved in health or environmental issues, but reading this article on Gristmill did make me think a bit more about the food I eat.

I grew up in a rural area in the Netherlands so I’m quite used to seeing cows in pastures. If you’d ask me what cows eat, grass would be my first answer. I know there aren’t enough pastures to feed all the cows we need for the enormous amount of meat the market demands (if you need a reason to boycott places like McDonalds just remember they allow rainforest to be cut down to rear cows, which incidentally emit huge amounts of methane, being a major contribution to global warming etc.), but still my answer instinctively would be grass.

Cow (nose) by .etiImage of a cow (nose) by .eti

My wife was a vegan for several years and her motives for doing so helped me understand a bit more about what we are doing to animals and the environment to satisfy our appetite for meat, dairy and other animal products. Her current job also shows me many issues with the way we produce all sorts of items with blatant disregard of public health and environmental issues (chemicals in children’s toys, food modification, air pollution etc.) causing a massive rise in various diseases like cancer, which is a huge financial burden on society. Money is a perfect motivator, so thanks to the insurance industry public awareness is increasing (just like with global warming, which causes more natural disasters, which cost a lot of money).

Meat at the grocery store (image by Diane Duane)

But still many people are unaware of what it is exactly they purchase. So when I buy beef, where does it come from?

Julia Olmstead was strolling by the meat counter at her regional mid-sized grocery chain and thought, “hey, I should ask for grass-fed beef, ’cause they’ll only carry it if they perceive demand”.

I can identify with this as my wife often wants to alert a lack of biological products in grocery shops or she simply wants to point out more environmental friendly ways to do things at various place we go.

Anyway, this is how the conversation between Julia and the butcher went:

Me: Hi, do you have any grass-fed beef?
Butcher: Hmm, grass-fed? I don’t think you can feed grass to cows.
Me: Well, they’re ruminant animals, so I think that’s what they’re supposed to eat.
Butcher: [sympathetic-but-authoritative head shake] I don’t think so. They need vitamins and minerals and stuff.
Me: Uh …
Butcher: Now this [points down at large, marbled slab in meat case], this is corn-fed beef.
Me: Yeah, well, um, thanks anyway.

Check Julia’s The Myth of Grass-fed Beef at Gristmill for more on this and many interesting comments following her post.

  • desi

    ignorant butcher

  • Being ignorant is so easy these days.

    The Little Food book really opened my eyes to so many things I would normally never think about.

    If your school doesn’t teach you, your government doesn’t alert and protect you, and your supermarket sells you anything as long as they can make a profit, how are things going to change?

    I’m really trying to let my money do the talking.

  • madjouba

    what do cows eat

  • Karmic Reaction


    Cow Eaters will become cows in their next life and will be eaten by the cows they ate.

  • Karmic Reaction

    Cow eating is the biggest sin on Earth.

  • i forgot!!!!


  • Lisa

    Cows eat grass, apples, carrots and cornbread just to name a few things.

  • nigel oohmidoodle

    Sup homie!

    Cows grow from small to big!

    From Calfs to Cows.


  • gage falcon


  • Too few people actually take the time to find out where exactly their food is coming from. It is a strange time in the history of civilization.

  • Filius

    So what do cows eat.Ever heard of feedlots.These are places where the cows are kept and feed the latest concoctions of oil and other feed cakes .Just think of it as a bigger form of doggie kibbles.Some of these cows never walk on grass in their lives.The get fed a certain amount of food till the reach a specified weight and of they go to the slaughter house.Ever seen a chicken farm.These buildings with all the little cages in it.So much food goes to the bird which in turn costs so much and then it is of with their heads.You can’t feed a chicken 5 $ worth of food when the producer only gets 2-3 per bird.It’s the profit margin that is important.

  • terra

    cows dont eat hay they only eat grass and other products enrquia