Placentophagy is the medical term for when an animal consumes their own placenta post-partum; cows are among those who engage in this activity.
Cody Creelman – a veterinary practitioner in Alberta – posted the following on social media.
“I have heard of several old wives' tales about this act, with the most common being that the placenta is nutritious and full of vitamins and minerals.”
A raw placenta has a protein content of 6%, a fat content of 0.78%, and high levels of iron, calcium, phosphorus, sodium, potassium, magnesium, zinc, and copper, the vet discovered.
Hormones include b-endorphins, 11-Deoxycortisol, 17-hydroxyprogesterone, 7-ketodehydroepiandrosterone, aldosterone, allopregnanolone, androstenedione, corticosterone, cortisol, cortisone, dehydroepiandrosterone, dihydrotestosterone, estradiol, estriol, estrone, melatonin, progesterone, and testosterone, he added.
“So, it is highly nutritious, even with some added hormones,” he said.
He said that in animals, placentophagy has been shown to improve maternal-offspring bonding and promote endogenous opioid release for an analgesic effect postpartum.
“I think there is some evidence to confirm at least, mildly positive health benefits for this practice.”
“But like many things in animal behaviour, there are likely other reasons afoot,” he added.
Predator defence mechanism
Placentophagy has also been suggested to be a predator defence mechanism.
"Essentially, the theory is that by cleaning up any trace that a birth has occurred nearby, predators will not be as attracted to the vulnerable new-born."
Creelman believes this theory has “a lot of merits” and it plays a “big role in the instinctual drive”.
“Births are messy, and a big piece of placental pie, just lying in the middle of the pasture, could attract a lot of attention from Mr. Wolf.”
“So, overall, I think placentophagy is multifactorial – a combination of maternal bonding, healing, defence, and nutrition.”
The vet has noticed a recommendation to farmers to remove a placenta from a cow after expulsion, in order to protect the cow from consuming it.
The rationalisation is that if a cow consumes her placenta, she becomes at risk for choke or GI obstruction, the vet outlined.
“Many ranchers will have experience with a story of having a cow choke on her placenta and have what they believe reason enough to justify the effort of collecting up placentas and disposing of them.”
“To others, this will be news and many experienced ranchers will have never heard of or seen a placental choke.”
“They will advocate that nature knows best, and to leave the placenta available for the cow to consume,” he concluded.
The purpose of this article is to inform readers about placentophagy; you should always seek advice from your own veterinary practitioner.
Image source: Cody Creelman \ Youtube