Do you know what alfalfa is? Cows eat alfalfa hay as part of their diet. Humans cannot digest alfalfa hay like cows can. Cows use those nutrients from the alfalfa hay to make something really useful: milk.
Alfalfa is also a major crop in Minnesota. It is a leafy plant that grows 2-3 feet tall. It is a perennial plant, which means it grows in the same place year after year. That way the farmer does not have to replant each year. Alfalfa is also a legume. Legumes put nitrogen into the soil, which is an important nutrient that helps feed other crops, like corn.
Why Cows Can Eat Alfalfa
While humans eat alfalfa sprouts on salads or sandwiches, most alfalfa goes to feed animals. Humans cannot digest most of the alfalfa plant, but we can digest milk from cows that eat alfalfa. This is possible because of how cows digest food. Humans have a stomach with one compartment — but cows have four compartments! The largest compartment is the rumen. It can hold 25 gallons of food or more. The rumen is a storage and fermentation vat for feed. Microbes
in the rumen help to digest or ferment food, breaking down the cellulose from all of the fibrous materials cattle eat. Together they work like a food processor, allowing the cow to easily digest things humans cannot.
Did You Know...
- One cow drinks enough water each day to fill a bathtub.
- Minnesota is #6 in the number of dairy cows and #8 in milk production in the U.S.
- Dairy cows in Minnesota produce 1.1 billion gallons of milk each year.
- Dairy farms today produce about 3 times more milk than they did in 1960. They produce that milk with half as many cows.
- Minnesota is #6 in the U.S. for cheese production.