Briefly (which is tough - this is so fascinating I could go on and on about it), cows have 4 stomachs. A grown-up cow eats grass in a hurry and swallows it down to the rumen (hence, "ruminants"), then later coughs it back up to to chew on at a more leisurely time (hence, "chewing your cud"), then swallows it again down to the second and third stomachs, then finally to the fourth stomach where real digestion begins.
The cool part is that, for a nursing calf, the sucking reflex sends a signal to the brain that this is the good stuff. The brain responds by creating a temporary extension of the esophagus that bypasses the first 3 stomachs completely, so that the mother's milk goes directly to the true stomach. If that same milk is put into a bucket for the calf to drink, it instead goes to the other stomachs first, and essential nutrients are lost.
In other words, mother's milk is so important that an elaborate system is built-in to ensure that the calf fully benefits from every drop. Could we fellow mammals be that different?
Continuing on this theme, cows are also living proof that our obsession with tits and ass (to quote the song from A Chorus Line) is indeed a natural mammalian trait. Remember how my inner maternal instincts helped me to get our baby calves to bottle feed for the first time? Well, it turns out that in addition to expressing milk and working the youngsters' jaws, I should have been feeling up those bull buttocks. Or kissing them.
That's right - my favourite late night book these days is "A Guide to Raising Beef Cattle", in which we are encouraged to
Rub the calf's buttocks (as the cow does when licking him - she pushes him toward the udder as she licks his hind end.) This stimulates him to nurse and may also stimulate him to pass his first bowel movement.7 years ago, a memorable initiation with my human baby Galen came when I was holding him naked above me on the front porch and he pood in my face. Not so sure I want that same bonding with my bulls...