Cows, Goats, Alpacas, and Their Stomachs, Oh My!
What do cows, goats, and alpacas have in common? They all have multiple compartments or rooms to their stomach! Humans only have one room to their stomach, which is called monogastric.
Although cows, goats and alpacas are similar in that they all have multiple rooms to their stomach, alpacas are still a little different.
You see, cows and goats are called ruminants and have four rooms in their stomachs called the rumen, reticulum, abomasum, and omasum, but alpacas are modified ruminants called pseudoruminants and only have three compartments to their stomachs, called the C-1, C-2, C-3. Each room in a ruminant or modified ruminants stomach has a very special job that help them digest tough grasses and foliage.
Eating with lots of stomachs:
When you are a ruminant or modified ruminant, eating is very different than the monogastrics of the world. We humans chew our food really well, swallow, and let our stomach do all the rest. Cows, goats, and alpacas have a different process.
First, let’s talk about their teeth. Four rooms or three to a stomach…it doesn’t matter. Alpacas, goats, and cows all have a similar teeth situation. They have incisors only on the bottom jaw (6 incisors for alpacas and 8 for cows and goats) and a hard dental pad on the top. They have sharp molars on both top and bottom to grind their food. Alpacas also have fighting teeth.
Enough about teeth, back to eating. These multi-stomach animals wrap their tongues around a blade of grass or other feedstuff to tear and eat. Cattle take from 25,000-40,000 bites while grazing each day! In order to take that many bites, they typically swallow their food partially whole. The food goes straight to the rumen or the alpaca’s C-1. These compartments are the largest in the animals’ stomach. Here it starts to break down and ferment. The food will stay in these rooms for 48-60 hours.
It is also here that nutrients begin to be absorbed (the C-3 is where most of the nutrients in alpacas are absorbed). The gross part about it all is ruminants and modified ruminants will throw-up their feed later to chew it again! Have you ever seen a goat sleepily chewing a cheek full of stuff? That is the regurgitated food.
After re-chewing their food, these animals will swallow the food again where it will enter the reticulum or C-2 of the stomach to break down more. The reticulum looks like a honeycomb and acts as a filter, catching any bad things the animal may have eaten like a nail or wire. It also catches any large food particles to be sent back to the rumen for break down. Small particles go on to the omasum. The omasum looks like a bunch of pages in a book and absorbs more nutrients and water before passing food into the abomasum, known as the “true stomach.” It is called the true stomach because it acts most like a human’s stomach. The C-3 is called the true stomach in alpacas.
Food will continue down through the digestive system where further water and nutrients will be absorbed.
Having many rooms in your stomach means you can eat forage that humans and other simple stomached animals cannot. Eating hay just is not tasty or that good for our human stomachs. You could say that ruminants and modified ruminants have stomach superpowers. That’s why many farmers have them on their farms—to be the official lawnmowers.
Goats are especially great at clearing brush and cattle and alpacas will mow down a lot of grass. These animals also provide milk, meat, and fiber. Here are some other fun facts about these fabulous livestock:
- Alpacas are part of the camelid family. They are cousins to llamas and camels.
- They come in two types—Suri (long, wavy hair that looks like dreadlocks) and huacaya (fluffy hair)
- They originally came from Peru
- They are shorn once a year and have soft, hypoallergenic fiber.
- Cattle are used for their milk, meat, and some are used as draft animals.
- Cattle are green and red color blind.
- There are cattle in every county in NC.
- There are roughly 46,000 milk cows and 494,000 beef cows in NC
- A cow is actually the term for a female. Heifer is a female that has not had babies. Bull is a male. A steer is a castrated male. Babies are called calves.
- Goats can be used for fiber, dairy, or meat.
- Goat fiber is called cashmere or mohair depending on the breed it comes from.
- Both male and female goats are can have horns and beards.
- One breed of goat, the LaMancha looks earless.