From Grass To Glass
The process of milk production begins with the cow. When a cow gives birth to a calf she will be able to produce milk. Because milk is made up of the nutrients in the food a cow eats and the water she drinks, eating is an essential step in the milk producing process.
The food from which a cow obtains all the nutrients she needs (for example protein and vitamins and minerals) will vary throughout the year, because of availability. During the grazing season (from April through to October) a cow’s main source of food is grass, which can provide all the nutrients it requires.
During the winter months cows are housed, and are usually fed on grass which has been preserved by the farmer during the summer months (which often takes the form of silage or hay). As this form of grass is often less nutritious than fresh grass, it may also be necessary to feed the cow additional foods (for example grain).
When a cow eats, it tears off its food or takes it from a trough and quickly swallows it. After a cow chews her food, it passes into the stomach. All cows are ruminants which means they have four stomachs, all with different functions:
This stomach (called the Rumen) contains special bacteria which can break down grass and release nutrients.
In this stomach (called the Reticulum) grass is softened further and formed into a ball called “the cud”. The cud is then brought back up into the cow’s mouth where it is chewed again until it is very soft (this is known as “chewing the cud”) and then it is re–swallowed.
In this stomach (called the Omasum) the cud is broken down even further.
This stomach (the Abomasum) is the most like a human stomach, and is where the grass is finally digested.
After the food has been digested in the stomach it will pass into the intestines, where nutrients will finally reach the blood, and be carried around the body and into the udder where the milk is produced.