Is Milk Harmful to Grown Cattle?

I’ve spent nearly an hour online this morning trying to answer one question: Will giving milk to a nearly grown calf cause any harm? I’m not having any luck finding an answer, so I guess I will have to punt on that one.

 Several years ago, I vaguely remembered something about some dairy farmers giving chocolate to their cows. No, it wasn’t in the hope of producing chocolate milk, but of increasing their caloric intake…I think. It has been so long ago that I read that ‘human interest’ story, I only remember the mental picture of the cows eating chocolate bars and my personal questions about which was their favorite. Was it dark or milk chocolate? straight chocolate or with peanuts? Did they enjoy Milky Ways? Swiss chocolate?

I digress, again.

I am thinking that if grown cows can eat chocolate, then giving them milk should not be a problem, so here’s the deal: Rowdy and Pip are doing great on the bottle, but the weather has turned exceedingly hot. It was 100 degrees (fahrenheit) here yesterday (101 if you factor in the low humidity). Just like humans, when it is hot, they aren’t particularly interested in eating. I think they would rather have a nice cool salad rather than warm milk and who could blame them? They have just piddled around with their bottles in the afternoon and maybe drink half; whereas, they gulp down a full bottle in the morning. They have plenty of fresh hay and sweet feed available, so we aren’t too concerned about their intake, however, it is a waste of a quart of milk every day.

On a lark, we decided to feed the babies’ leftovers to the biggest calves. We started with lanky old Horn**, you know, Mike’s very own puppy-cow that stands head and shoulders above the rest of the herd…even over Big Mama. Mike had the honors. At first he unscrewed the cap off the bottle and poured a little into the pen where the largest calves stood. It spooked a couple of them, who I am sure thought they were going to get a strange fly-spray sent their direction, and they took off in a run. Not Horn**. He sniffed the ground and went straight to Mike, who poured a tiny bit on the steer’s nose. I swear the calf smiled, licked his lips, tipped his head back, and waited for Mike to pour the liquid into his mouth! It was an amazing sight. Here was this big doofus of a calf with shoulders nearly as tall as I am, swigging from the bottle like a co-ed at a kegger!

Ever the scientist, Mike tried an experiment. He placed the nipple back on the bottle and returned the bottle to Horn**. Had he forgotten how to suckle like cats and dogs do? How would he respond to the nipple? These questions were answered quickly. Horn** latched on to the nipple and began sucking on the bottle, draining it completely in seconds. He then complained…loudly. As we walked outside the pen area, Horn** followed every move, complaining, kicking his heels a little, acting excited and exuberant. It was wonderful to watch, though in my heart I wondered if that could present a danger to Mike later. Horn** is already his best buddy. Would he be so excited to see him, hoping for some milk, that he might trample Mike?

Yesterday, it was my turn to experiment. I approached the medium-sized calves at their pen. Mike had just given them feed, so most were completely disinterested in me and the bottle. I shook it, hoping the splashing contents would draw their attention. Only one responded, Number 70. (That is his name…I don’t know why…I just like the sound of it and Seventy comes to the name.) I shoved the bottle through the boards that divide the shed and he chewed a bit on the nipple which caused milk to squirt right into his nose. Oops, sorry guy! Seventy did not care that the milk was in his right nostril. He tipped his head back and sniffed the air deeply. He did it a second time with a long-lasting snnnnniiiiiiiiiiffffff. He too smiled. There was no doubt he had a big cheesy cow-grin on his face as he turned and moved closer to the slats. As I held the bottle with an outstretched arm, Seventy had no problem finding the nipple and with a slurp, slurp, slurp the bottle was dry with exactly the same results as with Horn**: eyes rolled back, exuberation, and one other thing.

The calf was dancing. Oh, it was not a ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ kind of a dance, but it was a dance. There was a little Michael Jackson moonwalk, a little salsa step, some disco moves and even a pirouette. I swear, if he had a rose in his mouth you could have recognized his version of the tango.

Would I exaggerate?

Seventy realized at some point that I was still standing there watching him, empty bottle in hand and you could see his eyes light up. He wanted more, but the hand that held the bottle was gone.

There is a space between the boards in the pen of about five inches. Just enough room to put your arm in to do various actions without having to actually be in the enclosure with the animals, and just enough room for me to slide that bottle through to Seventy earlier. Now, the 700 lb. calf decided he, too could slide through that 5 inch opening, if he was careful. In the middle of a carefully choreographed dance move, he gingerly stuck his nose in the opening, grinning the whole while. Nope, didn’t fit and was kind of painful. He tried it from a different angle. He tried chewing on the boards. He tried bellowing a complaint. His only response was me watching with laughter and little Pip wandering over to see what the commotion was about.  As I walked away, Seventy looked utterly dejected. He hung his head down a bit and pouted, then slowly walked to the feed trough and began to eat. So with the excitement over, Pip turned, found a soft spot in the bedding and closed his eyes for a nap.

Now you know why I wondered if feeding milk to nearly grown calves might harm them. I mean, who would guess that cattle could party-hearty on a little bit of leftover milk?

About cattlebaroness

I am a graduate of the University of Kentucky with a BA in History, nearing completion of a Master of Arts in American history. Born and raised first on military bases around the world, then in Orange County, CA, I moved to Kentucky when my children were small. I now live on a small family farm and am learning about farm life, planting and our newest addition to the landscape--cattle. Until a month or two ago, all I knew about 'cows' were that they came in brown, black and white and that some are raised for milk and others for meat. I am a quick study out of necessity.
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5 Responses to Is Milk Harmful to Grown Cattle?

  1. ceciliag says:

    That is a lovely story. In an ideal world a calf will suckle from his mother for about 8 months and even after Mum has had her next calf the older ones are often found stealing a little too. In my grandfathers day they fed left over fresh milk back to the milking cows for the calories, etc. Sounds like you have got quite a healthy bunch there now. That is good. c

  2. Thank you! for the information and the compliment! Try as I might, I really could not accurately portray the sense of absolute delight to larger calves had over getting that milk! We see cattle in the field, seemingly docile. We think they eat, drink, poop and procreate but not much exciting in their world. This certainly shattered my preconceptions about them!

  3. JAS says:

    Our state farm paper ran an article a while back about dairy farms around Hershey, PA, getting ground-up chocolate from Hershey’s for their cattle. They’ve been doing that for a long time. Hersheys grinds returns and out-of-season chocolates (e.g., Christmas chocolates left over after December)–including the packaging paper, as i recall, and provides it to the local dairy farmers by the truckload (you go there, they dump it into your truck). The dairy farmers say the cows love it, and do well with it. FWIW.

  4. Jim T says:

    You okay, Baroness? Silent five weeks now. Best to you, I know you’re probably just way busy.

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