During a drought, farmers often find it difficult to feed their livestock. This is as obvious as...well, it is obvious, isn't it. With no rain, no plants grow. With no plant growth, livestock have no food. So farmers have to feed them something, or sell them to the abattoir. This is usually a tough economic decision, as the livestock are usually their income source.

However, there are apparently diets that work for cows in droughts. A friend of mine, who lives near the state border a few hours to the west, grew up farming. He told me that it is possible for cows, and presumably other ruminants as well, to survive on a diet of newspaper and urea.

Now I'm sure some people reading this will be asking themselves "What? Is this for real?". Hold on. It might actually work. It does make some sense.

If you want the low-down on bovine nutrition, you really should check out How do cows get all their nutrients, when they only eat grass?, as it has all the basic info I need for my node to make perfect sense. Go there (as well!).

Anyway, my friend really had to convince me that this made sense, as it indeed does, and will eventually to you. You see, newspaper is basically purified plant product. Normal plants are mostly cellulose and lignin. Paper production requires the removal of the lignin, making paper almost pure cellulose. Cows, being foregut fermenters, love cellulose. It's their carbon source. Their gut bacteria metabolise the cellulose into sugars and more complex organic molecules needed by the cow. The cow also digests plenty of the bacteria as well.

The reason newspaper is used is because it's low grade and widely available, and it's cheap. I hypothesise that the ink has sulphur in it, good for amino acid production. Whether printing inks contain sulphur now, how would I know? The urea is obviously the nitrogen source.

Now, over a long time, this is probably not a healthy diet for livestock, but it is better than starvation. But I bet you wouldn't want to eat the meat of an animal on this diet, would you?

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