For humans, an apple a day is supposed to keep the doctor away, but for cows, tackling a fruitarian diet isn’t quite so straightforward.
During fall, any homesteader with both apple trees and cows will know how difficult it can be to stop your cows from devouring the fallen fruit and October tends to see a sudden increase in people asking, “Can cows eat half-fermented apples?” and “Do cows get drunk from eating apples?”
If your grazing is limited, finding affordable feed for cattle during the winter months can prove challenging, which is why commercial beef farmers sometimes opt for unusual feed alternatives.
A few years ago, the New York Post ran a story about beef cattle being fed Skittles to fatten them up, which got strawberry milk lovers around the US very excited. If cows can sustain on Skittles, surely a few fresh fruits can’t do them any harm… or can they?
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Can Cows Eat Apples?
Cows love fruits, and especially apples. In fact, they love them so much, if presented with bucketloads of the things, they won’t know when to stop, which is where the problems lie.
While apples are safe to feed to cows in moderation, they should be regulated as too many apples can cause bloating and acidosis, which is potentially lethal.
If you’re going to feed your cows apples, mash them or break them up into small pieces to prevent choking. Unlike horses, cows don’t have upper incisors so they can end up putting the whole apple in their mouth in one piece.
While they will try to bite through the apple with their molars, in the process, they may accidentally swallow it whole or, if it’s a particularly hard apple, it can potentially shoot straight down their throat.
Either way, you’ll end up with a costly vet bill on your hands.
Are Half-Fermented Apples Good For Cows?
Although partly fermented apples probably aren’t on your list of favorite foods, cows enjoy them and reap their rewards, which include aiding digestion and regulating the stomach’s acidity.
Feeding a few half-fermented apples to your cow can be beneficial and they may welcome them as tasty treats that make a change from their traditional feed.
Is it true that cows can get drunk on apples?
Some say they’ve seen “six highly inebriated cows, marching flank to flank like a row of members of a marching band,” while others say it simply isn’t possible. The apples take too long to ferment and cows would need to eat too large a quantity to feel the effects.
There is a theory, however, that a cow with acidosis (also known as grain poisoning) may display symptoms similar to those exhibited by inebriated humans, such as “muscular tremors, followed by a drunken, staggering gait.”
Nevertheless, acidosis is a serious illness caused by the rapid fermentation of carbohydrates in the cow’s rumen or stomach which leads to “an increase in the amount of acid-producing bacteria.”
In small quantities, however, apples are an excellent source of potassium which “impacts carbohydrate metabolism, amino acid uptake, and protein synthesis,” boosting the animal’s immune function, milk product, and reproductive performance.
What Other Foods Do Cows Like?
Cows love nothing better than the sweet taste of seasonal fruits which makes keeping them out of your apple orchard and away from fruit trees in general somewhat challenging.
If you’re looking for a nice, fruity treat for cows, you might want to consider the following.
You may not be willing to share things like strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries with your cattle but, if you do have an excess, all these common fruits have as many advantages for your cows as they do for you.
- Strawberries are rich in antioxidants and support the immune system.
- Raspberries contain high levels of vitamin A, while their stems and stalks provide dietary fiber.
- Blueberries, on the other hand, are “an excellent source of nutrients, valued mostly in times when the forage is low.”
Carrots are tasty and beneficial for cows, giving them the antioxidant benefits of butter oil, and the benefits of calcium, iron, and potassium.
To ensure your cow doesn’t choke on a carrot, be sure to feed them at ground level as this makes them easier to chew and swallow.
Oranges are amongst the most common fruits fed to cows, either in their dry feed or as an extra food source.
Not only are oranges and other citrus fruits, like grapefruit, high in nutrients and vitamins, they also have an antimicrobial effect in the cow’s gut. (source)
Cows will eat the entire fruit, peel and pip included, getting essential oils such as d-limonene from the peels.
Sweet corn is an excellent form of cow feed, providing them with an energy source and they’ll happily tuck into the entire thing, “from the corn kernels to the corn stalks.”
Corn silage is frequently used to supplement the grass available in your cow pastures, and can also “serve as the sole grain source in backgrounding and finishing diets.”
Tractor Supply has a good range of cracked corn for cattle available.
While I wouldn’t recommend breaking out a can of pineapples for your backyard cows, fresh pineapple can help boost their immune system and improve digestion.
Cows enjoy the occasional pineapple so much, they’ll happily munch their way through the tough rind and will even eat their spiky topknot.
Too much of anything can be a bad thing, however, and pineapples have a lot of sugar in them so they should only be fed in moderation.
Despite their large, hard pips, stone fruits like plums and mangoes are both worth considering.
While cattle will happily eat the entire fruit given the opportunity, this is only advisable with the mango as cows could choke on the smaller plum pips.
What Fruits Are Dangerous For Cows?
Cows may enjoy the odd slice of watermelon, and even a handful of raspberries if you can spare them, but some fruits could, potentially, kill them.
You’d think that, if cows can eat plums, giving them free rein with your cherry trees would be a great way to expand their food sources.
You couldn’t be more wrong.
When the leaves of the cherry tree start to wilt, they produce hydrogen cyanide (HCN) compounds, also known as prussic acid.
“Ruminant animals are very susceptible to poisoning from HCN and, “for a 1200 lb cow, consuming 1.2 to 4.8 pounds of wilted black cherry leaves could be a lethal dose.” (source)
Apricots can be similarly dangerous, although the flesh of the fruit itself is safe enough.
The leaves and branches are both toxin producers, but the pit or stone is the most lethal. If ingested, apricot kernels have been shown to cause “acute toxicity in humans” and be fatal for cattle. (source)
Show Your Cows How Much You Care
No one, not even a so-called beast of burden, enjoys eating the same food day after day and, for cows, stone fruits, and other seasonal fruits and vegetables, provide some much-needed variety.
Some commercial beef cattle farmers use fruits to improve the flavor or appearance of the meat.
In Osaka, for example, farmers are experimenting with producing a leaner, healthier beef by adding sour plums, known as ume, to their feed.
For homesteaders, adding fruit to your cows’ diet can help cut down on winter feed bills, while giving them access to nutrients and vitamins that may not be available to a cow grazing pastures alone.
Hiding the occasional grapefruit or banana in their hay also adds some excitement to the day and gives you a chance to show your cows how much you care.