Skip to content

Do Cows Eat Rocks / Pica (2024)

Cows Eating Rocks _ Pica

Do Cows Eat Rocks

What is Pica in Cattle

Do Cows Eat RocksPica is a peculiar condition of deprived or perverted appetite, whereby the animals start eating objects that they normally do not eat. The word pica comes from the Latin name magpie, a bird known for its unusual and indiscriminate eating habits.

The condition is seen in cattle, buffaloes (particularly pregnant and lactating), and occasionally in other animals such as pigs, horses, and goats. Cows in the calf and young cattle are especially liable to develop this condition. While animals showing pica can look healthy, this behavior can lead to undesirable consequences, such as ingestion of objects like stones, which could damage the gut.

To learn more about Raising Cattle Check out Amazons Resources

The reasons behind the occurrence of pica are not completely clear: this abnormal appetite is generally associated with mineral deficiencies (sodium and phosphorus) and/or lack of structural fiber. Other possible causes are energy or protein imbalances, intestinal parasites, or other mineral deficiencies.

This is not normal behavior for cattle to eat stones or other objects that they normally don’t eat.

This usually indicates a lack of minerals in their feed source, so they are trying to get it from the stones or other objects.

Pica in Children

Have Your Feed Analyzed

You should have your feed analyzed to see what is lacking in their ration and feed a supplementary mineral to the ration. Once the cattle receive the right minerals, they should stop eating stones.

Salt (Sodium)

Low sodium is certainly a factor for this behavior in cows. With high potassium (slurry, fertilizer) creating a risk also by locking up sodium.

Low sodium can also be a factor where we see cows licking urine or licking walls.

Pasture in the early summer can have lower sodium so we need to have this high up our list of differentials.

Salt (Sodium) is a very interesting mineral in the ruminant. They self-regulate and will only generally consume it if they need it. So, my first course of action would be to give them salt licks in a barrel to see what their reaction is.

I find with these herds I tend to review overall mineral status. The best way to do this at pasture is grass samples and blood.

Mineral Supplement

Low fiber

We all know how important fiber is in the ruminant diet. It is the building block for good rumen health and function. As we hit peak grass growth in early summer, we can see that leafy grass being low in fiber.

Dung / Feces Appearance

This can affect rumen health and function on some farms. We can often have other issues with this, with butter fats dropping and cows getting very loose dungs. They are loose at grass anyway I hear you say, but my experience is the dungs get very loose.

Pica in Cattle

They will often appear bubbly in nature, another old wife’s tail on this one is “bubbles in the dung is a sign of fluke”. I think again “bubbly dung” is just telling us primarily rumen health and digestive function isn’t right. The next logical step in herds where this is suspected would give cows access to some fiber.

Ring feeders with straw and watch cows. This can be enhanced by chopping the straw and maybe mixing some molasses through it to help palatability.

A simple tool could also be a little bit of buffering after milking with silage in the morning. Where BF and dungs are ok in herds I find that low fiber is lower down the differential list.

See Our Guide – Ways to Make Money Cattle Farming

Low phosphorous

Phosphorus deficiency in cattle may cause symptoms related to reduced appetite, including retarded growth rate of young cattle, low milk yield, and impaired fertility.

Skeletal abnormalities associated with osteomalacia may appear as stiffness, reluctance to move, shifting lameness, cracking sounds in joints when walking, an arched back and in severe cases, spontaneous fractures. Recently calved cows may become recumbent and display post parturient hemoglobinuria.

Pica is commonly observed (though not specific to phosphorous deficiency), with animals craving bones, sticks, rocks, and polyethylene pipe. Botulism may be encountered in phosphorus-deficient cattle from chewing bones.

Addressing phosphorus and sodium deficiencies

To address the phosphorus and sodium deficiencies, we recommend supplying salt licks to your cows that contain a high level of phosphorus

DIY Mineral Feeders

Supplementing Spring Born Calves

Another key area to keep an eye on at this time of the year is spring-born dairy bred calves, particularly those who have been raised on whole milk.

While milk replacer contains added levels of trace elements in vitamins, whole milk contains very low levels of these key elements. With this in mind, it is important that calves are supplemented with minerals as it is highly likely that they will begin to become depleted.

Free choice mineral buckets are a convenient way of administering minerals and vitamins to young stock, or alternatively, some minerals can be added to calf rations.


Pica can occur in early lactation dairy cows, generally in the first two weeks after calving. If the high-yielding cow’s energy requirement is higher than the energy supplied by the diet, this results in negative energy balance.

To try to meet the energy demands, the cow breaks down body fat to use as a source of energy and one of these breakdown products is ketones. High ketone levels in the blood are termed ketosis.

Although relatively rare, these blood ketones can result in pica. However, there are usually other obvious signs as well, such as a strange gait or walk staggering and even aggressive behavior.


Fiber is an important part of the diet to maintain rumen health. Although the rumen can function on low fiber levels, it takes time for the rumen bacteria to adapt. Rapid changes in grass fiber content, even between fields, can result in rumen acidosis and pica.

Other signs of rumen acidosis to watch out for are milk butterfat depression and loose manure. If rumen acidosis is the reason for these signs, your nutritionist may recommend some buffer feeding around milking time to increase the fiber intake.

Rumen Acidosis

How to prevent and control the problem of Pica

  • Give cows access to a source of long fiber such as straw, hay or stemmy silage in the paddock or near the collecting yard 
  • Feed Additional Phosphorous. 
  • Extra sodium (salt blocks) can aid in reducing the problem of pica

Mineral Supplements – Deficiencies

Iodine – Deficiencies

  • Infertility
  • Pinkeye
  • Lumpy Jaw
  • Retained Placenta

Vitamin A – Deficiencies

  • Retained Placenta
  • Dead Calves
  • Blind Calves
  • Infections

Magnesium – Deficiencies

  • Grass Tetany

Selenium – Deficiencies

  • Calves Born Dead
  • Weak. Retained Placentas

Phosphorus – Deficiencies

  • Weak Calves
  • Still Born Calves

Copper – Deficiencies

  • Unthriftiness
  • Loss of Coat
  • Abnormalities in Legs
  • Respiratory Problems
  • Reproduction Dis Orders

Calcium – Deficiencies

  • Milk Fever
  • Drop-in Milk Production
  • Stiff Gait
  • Retained Placenta

Zinc – Deficiencies

  • Slow Growth
  • Foot Rot
  • Eye Problems
  • Slow Developed Testicles

World Cattle Breeder Associations

Cattle AssociationLocationLink
National Cattleman's Beef AssociationsUnited StatesNCBA
United States Cattlemans AssociationUnited StatesUSCA
Ohio Cattlemans AssociationOhioOCA
American Angus AssociationUnited StatesAAA
United Kingdom Cattle AssociationsUKUKCA
Australia Cattle AssociationsAustraliaACA
Do Cows Eat Rocks / Pica (2024) 1
Do Cows Eat Rocks / Pica (2024) 2
Do Cows Eat Rocks / Pica (2024) 3