Carnivorous animals such as birds of prey, dogs, coyotes and bears commonly eat dead cows and their deceased baby calves. However, a cow is far more likely to die at the hands of a human, with the average person in the United States consuming 55lbs of beef per year.
In a previous article, we looked at common predators of cattle. However, there are several other animals that will also eat dead cows after a predator has made its kill.
Table of Contents
Animals That Eat Cows
Scavengers play an important role in an ecosystem’s food chain, and there are many species that will help to break down the body of a dead cow. Here are the most common:
Many birds of prey are known for hunting small mammals such as mice, rabbits, squirrels, skunks, mink, and cats. They will also scavenge off of the corpses of larger animals if the opportunity presents itself.
Some common birds of prey that will eat a cow include bald eagles, vultures, ravens, hawks, falcons, and harriers. Vultures, also known as buzzards, are one of the species that are best known for their scavenging behavior. They will rarely ever attack or kill other animals but prefer to eat off of animals that have already been killed.
Birds of prey will often fly over areas and scan their surroundings for available carrion to feed off of. While larger and stronger birds such as bald eagles normally strike down their prey, they are often hesitant to attack cows outright due to their size disadvantage. Once a wounded or sick cow dies, a bird will swoop in and start to feed.
Unlike their predatory wolf ancestors, modern dogs are more so scavengers. Over the thousands of years of domestication by humans dogs have lost their instinct to hunt and instead choose to simply eat what food is presented to them.
While in the wild, dogs are omnivorous and so will eat fruits, vegetables, nuts, meat, and any other source of nutrition. If they come across the carcass of a cow, they won’t hesitate to use their sharp teeth to dig into the cow’s flesh.
Some packs of wild dogs will take the opportunity to take down a baby calf if they are hunting in a pack. Domesticated dogs usually don’t possess any instinct to outright attack a cow, but they might do so if they are starving and desperate for food.
Coyotes are the number 1 predator of cows, causing more cow and calf deaths than any other predator. However, they are also known for being scavengers.
A coyote’s diet is primarily carnivorous, as their diet normally consists of around 90% animals. While they mostly hunt small mammals, they are also known to hunt birds, snakes, large amphibians, and insects. During the winter, coyotes will also supplement their diet with an assortment of berries, fruits, and other flora of their environment.
When a coyote comes across the carrion of a cow after another predator, it will usually jump right in and start to eat it. Larger predators, like wolves and mountain lions, are pretty territorial over their kill, so coyotes need to stay alert in case the other predator returns.
Although similar in appearance to wild dogs, hyenas are an entirely different species that have their own unique feeding behaviors. Modern spotted hyenas are known for being predators, while the striped hyenas are primarily scavengers.
Striped hyenas are carnivores native to Africa and Asia that are scavengers of a wide variety of animals. Anything that other predators will kill, a striped hyena will more than likely eat.
Hyenas have unique relationships with some predators. For example, hyenas are known to sometimes team up with grey wolves. When traveling together, hyenas have a greater sense of smell and can help the wolves track down their prey, and then the wolves will make the kill and allow the hyenas to have their share of meat.
Bears are omnivores that are known to kill cows from time to time, but will also eat an already dead cow if given the chance to. While they are proficient predators and foragers, bears will scavenge for food when they are getting ready to hibernate.
Black and grizzly bears are the two types of bear that are best known for eating cows. They much prefer to stay away from large populations of humans, so they will most prominently attack cows in rural areas that are near dense forests.
Beetles, flies, ants, and other insects are known for helping the decomposition of carrion. Dead cows will attract an assortment of insect scavengers that play a big role in breaking down the corpse.
Blow flies, or bottle flies, are one species that are notorious for consuming carrion. They will lay their eggs directly in dead animal carcasses so that when they hatch the larvae will have an immediate source of food: the meat of a dead animal.
As the greatest consumer of cow meat, we as humans are best known for harvesting cows for meat. While we rarely scavenge meat off of already dead animals in this modern era, ancient humans would salvage what meat they could off of dead animals.
People have been consuming beef for hundreds of years, and it has become a primary source of protein in many diets. Many cultures have raised cattle for generations and many different culinary dishes use beef as a primary and traditional ingredient.
The average human consumption of beef in America is about 55 pounds per year. With almost 92 million cattle in the United States alone, beef is one of the biggest sources of animal protein in North America.
Do Cows Eat Other Cows?
Cows will not normally eat other cows. Even if a cow is presented with the corpse of another cow, it is highly unlikely that they will be interested in consuming it.
Even though cows can digest animal meat in small quantities, meat isn’t good for their ruminant digestive systems. Their rumen and intestines are able to process plant materials more efficiently than any other type of food.
If the rumen is negatively affected, it won’t be able to properly manage and digest plant-based cud as it proceeds through the digestive system. Because of this, most cattle farmers are extremely careful when deciding what type of feed to give their herd.
Cows do consume trace amounts of other dead cows in their feed, as the animal byproduct bovine origin proteins are a common ingredient in many animal feeds. Unfortunately, the bad prion proteins are known to cause Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), otherwise known as mad cow disease, when consumed by cattle.