How many stomachs does a cow have?

The animal kingdom is a fascinating world, not only because of the diversity of species that exist on the planet, but also because each group has specialized in an incredible way to make the best use of the resources it has in the space it inhabits. In this sense we have cows, vertebrates that belong to the Mammals class, Artiodactyla order and Bovidae family. These are also found in a suborder identified as Ruminantia (ruminants) due to the specific complexity to process food, which has led to believe that these animals have several stomachs.

If you've ever wondered about how many stomachs does a cow have and what its digestion process is like, then continue reading this Animal Expero article, in which we are going to clarify these aspects.

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  1. What is a ruminant?
  2. Cow digestive system
  3. Do cows have 4 stomachs?
  4. Parts of a cow's stomach

What is a ruminant?

Ruminant animals are exclusively herbivores that feed on stems, grasses and herbaceous materials, having a complex digestion system to transform food into simpler compounds and to be able to take advantage of their chemical components, thus being able to nourish themselves. The plants that ruminants feed on are made up of a high content of cellulose, which can only be used thanks to the anatomy of the digestive system of these animals, which also has specialized microorganisms that contribute to the process..

Rumination properly consists of re-chew food that had already been swallowed. In this sense, these animals mix with saliva and lightly chew the food and pass it to the esophagus so that it is then taken to the stomach. But in this process, the larger particles are regurgitated into the mouth to be chewed again and later re-ingested..

Cow digestive system

Cows can consume on average about 70 kg of grass per day, in a period of 8 hours, which represents a high amount of mass that, together with the difficulty to process and assimilate this type of food, makes these animals require a peculiar anatomical and physiological system to carry out the digestion process.

The digestive system of the cow is made up of:

  • Mouth: in which the tongue and teeth meet. The tongue is made up of different papillae that gives it its rough texture and is long, since it has an apprehension function, so that it rolls it in the grass, introduces it in the mouth and with the use of the lower incisor teeth it makes the cut, crushing it slightly. This procedure is repeated several times until having a mass of approximately 100 g that mixes with the saliva, forming a bolus that is swallowed. The saliva of the cows is formed in large quantities and is produced by various glands, secreting different substances to facilitate the wetting of the grass and its chewing, but also to control the pH of the bolus during the digestive process.
  • Esophagus: the bolus, which is already a mixture lightly chewed and mixed with saliva, passes through the pharynx until it reaches the esophagus, from where it is transported to the stomach.
  • Stomach: it is a sac-like structure that begins with the end of the esophagus and ends in the duodenum. It is made up of several parts and, in particular, it is inhabited by different specialized microorganisms that are essential for the digestive process of cows..

And if you are also wondering how milk is produced in cows, you can consult this other AnimalWised article about ¿How Cows Make Milk?

Do cows have 4 stomachs?

The saying that cows have 4 stomachs has become popular, but it is not entirely true. Cows have a single stomach, divided into four structures: rumen, reticulum, omasum and abomasum, in each of which a phase of the digestive process develops. Thanks to this digestive system, they are physiologically and anatomically capable of optimally processing, digesting and absorbing nutrients, thus ensuring that these animals are properly fed.

However, not only is the stomach of the cow divided into various parts, it is common in the stomach of ruminants. In fact, ruminants are also known as polygastric animals, due to the division that his stomach possesses. In this sense, these animals have a complex digestive structure that is divided into several parts and, in the case of cows, specifically four. But ¿What are those 4 parts of the cow's stomach? Let's see them below.

Parts of a cow's stomach

The stomach of these animals is made up of four compartments or chambers, which gives complexity to this organic system, hence it is usually said that cows they have four stomachs.

The parts of a cow's stomach are:

  • Rumen: here is the population of microorganisms that initiates the fermentation of the food bolus in order to transform it. This is the largest compartment of all, being able to have a capacity of up to 200 liters. Certain fermentation products are already absorbed by the rumen walls and enter the bloodstream. Other compounds that are not fermented, are transformed into proteins used by the animal. The time that the food remains in this area can vary, about 12 hours for the more liquid fraction, and between 20 to 48 hours for the fibrous portion..
  • Reticle: this chamber has the function of containing the feed, transporting that which has been digested and is more liquid to the curdling or abomasum of the cow, while the larger remains are taken to the rumen to be regurgitated from this chamber back to the mouth and so rumination takes place.
  • Omaso or booklet: this compartment is characterized by being made up of various folds, which is why it is also known as a booklet. The function of the cow's omasum is to absorb excess water so that the feed passes to the next structure as concentrated as possible and the enzymes involved in digestion have not been diluted.
  • Abomasum or curdle: also called curdling of the cow, it is the stomach of the animal itself. The acidity of this area is high, so all the microorganisms that have been processing the food are digested here, also stopping the fermentation. Hydrochloric acid and pepsin are produced, favoring the processing of proteins that have reached the area, causing a chemical digestion of food.

Other digestive structures of cows

Other digestive structures of these animals are:

  • Small intestine: the products of digestion that take place in the four stomach compartments of the cow are absorbed in the small intestine.
  • Large intestine: in the large intestine, the components not yet digested will be processed by a less prolific population of microorganisms that will undergo a new fermentation.
  • Blind: the mass of food that has not been digested passes through the cecum.
  • Colon: the colon of the cow is the place where the absorption of water and minerals occurs, to later form the fecal matter that will be eliminated through the rectum canal.

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