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Dairy Management and Production

How do calves process milk in their bodies?

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September 12, 2011 9:15PM

Calves have a fold in front of the reticulum that is activated when the calf is positioned to ingest milk; this fold forms a tube that becomes a temporary extension of the esophagus, allowing the milk to flow through this "esophageal groove" by-passing the rumen completely and emptying into the abomasum, the true stomach of cattle. Digestion of milk in the abomasum instead of the rumen is critical to the health and growth of the calf. Nature makes sure milk goes into the abomasum even after the rumen is fully developed. Calves process milk in their true stomach much like any monogastric does, which digests the milk giving them the protein and nutrients they need for their growing bodies. Most calves start eating forage by their first week, and are chewing their cud by the time they are 2 weeks old. Their rumen fully matures when they reach 3 months of age.