Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Dairy Diet – What do Cows Eat?

Cows must eat nutritious feed to produce quality milk. Our cows are given a combination of ingredients that provide the nutrients they need to be healthy, content and productive. We work with a dairy cattle nutritionist who creates a feed ration (recipe) for our cows. This recipe is modified as the cow’s needs change based on age, stage of lactation (where they are in their milk cycle), gestation (pregnancy status), feed availability and other factors.

The cows enjoying a meal
Currently, our feed ingredients include haylage (chopped up hay), corn silage (the entire corn plant from ear to stalk), soybean meal, wet distillers grain, fruit, ground corn and a mineral & vitamin mix. 

Feed is stored in this commodity barn
Some of these ingredients are byproducts considered as waste but they provide a good source of nutrients. For example, we recently started feeding fruit products sourced from Giant Eagle grocery store. This fruit mixture primarily consists of pineapple, watermelon and cantaloupe rinds that people don’t eat but cows love. Cows are able to thrive on a variety of ingredients. Dairy producers in other regions of the country might feed different ingredients depending on what’s available near their farm. Some dairy producers feed citrus, cottonseed, or even bakery products.

These are the feed ingredients we currently use
Each cow consumes about 100 lbs of feed every day. We grow corn silage and hay which represents about 50% of our feed needs. The rest is purchased. We use a computer program called TMR Tracker, to track feed recipes, the quantity cows consume and ingredient costs. Feed costs have a huge impact on our business because they represent approximately half of our monthly expenses.

The feed is mixed in this wagon then delivered to the cows
We do our best to make sure the cows have feed in front of them all the time. It’s a priority to provide a consistent diet of quality feed so our cows produce high quality milk.

37 comments:

  1. Very interesting! I never knew that about the fruit!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great post! I really enjoyed sharing the pictures with my kids.

    Please correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't organic dairies required to feed only organic products to their cows? I have always imagined this to be a very burdensome requirement (after all I balk at the price of organic feed for a 2oz. cockatiel, I can't imagine what it is for a 2000 lb. cow :-).

    Is organic feed significantly more expensive and more challenging to procure or is it reasonably priced and easily accessible.

    I understand if you don't know the answer since this isn't the focus of your farm, I was just curious.

    Thank you,
    Meredith

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I can attest some as to the cost. We pay roughly $300/ton for conventional dairy feed. Our certified organic neighbor pays roughly $500/ton. Organic is roughly twice as expensive as conventional.

      Oh, and yes, all feed, minerals and supplements have to be certified organic. Even the teat prep/dip solutions also have to be approved for organic milk.

      Delete
  3. Thanks for the question Meredith. The cost of purchasing all livestock feed is high right now due to the extremely inflated price of corn and other feed ingredients. It’s my understanding that organic dairies are required to feed only organic feed. I don’t know the difference in cost, but imagine organic feed would be significantly more expensive than traditionally grown feed and much more difficult to source.

    There are some differences in organic and traditional dairy production practices, but the end product is the same; nutrient-rich, quality milk.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Awesome Post.

    Pardon my ignorance but is it possible for a dairy cow to live on 100% pasteur based diet? i.e grass and clover....or do they need different nutrients during different seasons and ages etc.

    Also if they can it must be almost impossible to milk them without some kind of high energy food to entice them in.

    Any advice would be appreciated

    Thanks Steve

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thank you for reading my blog and taking the time to comment. We’ve never had our cows on an exclusive pasture based diet, so I’m not sure how dairy cows would perform if they ate 100% grass with no supplemental feed. My guess is they would have some nutrient deficiencies and excesses throughout any given cow’s lactation.

    I don’t know if there are any dairy farms that graze exclusively due to seasons and weather conditions. Here in Northeast Ohio, it would be impossible to graze cattle year-around since we experience 5 to 6 months of cold and snow.

    Regarding your question about “enticing cows in”, I believe you are referring to getting cows into the milking parlor. At our farm, all feed is given to cows in the barn where they live; we don’t provide any feed in the milking parlor.

    We manage our cows diet based on the needs of the animals. Cows that recently calved have higher energy needs while cows later in their lactation have less need for a high-energy diet therefore would consume more forage. For more details, see the blog I’ll post on 6/14/11 which will outline the rations we feed and why.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Hi, my name is Violet and I am 9 years old. I am a Girl Scout in Nassau County, New York. I am also on a Robotics Lego Team. This year the challenge is to pick 1food and research how it can become contaminated. My team has chosen whipped cream and we are going to research how what a cow eats can contaminate its milk. Would it be possible for my team to speak with you? We could either Skype with you, or call you on the phone? We meet every Sunday afternoon. My mom is the Coach, so she's always here with us. Thank you for reading this! Violet

    ReplyDelete
  7. Violet - I appreciate you contacting me. I would be happy to talk with you and your Girl Scout group. It would be helpful if you sent me a list of questions prior to our discussion. Please send them to me via email at hastings97@gmail.com. After I receive your email, we can set up a date and time to talk. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  8. HI,
    I just recently purchased a milk cow and I am trying to find a feed recipe to have ground at the mill so I can save money on buying bagged feed? Do you have a feed recipe for a lactating cow?

    ReplyDelete
  9. Good question. Cattle feed is expensive. This blog lists the feed ingredients we use, but we depend on our nutritionist to prepare a recipe based on our cow's specific needs. Each herd is a little different. I recommend you work with someone at the store where you purchase feed to create the best ration for the needs of your cow.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I thought cows are designed to have grass based diets. The use of corn and hay/grains can influence the nutrition content and possibly cause bacteria formations...

    ReplyDelete
  11. We work with a nutritionist to design a diet the meets the needs of our animals. This diet includes a variety of ingredients, including grains, forages, etc. I know there are some movies and books written by people who are not experts in animal nutrition who advocate that cows only eat grass. This is not accurate. We feed our cows based on their needs so they are healthy and productive.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Cows are ruminants designed for a grass based diet. All cows can live and produce milk while eating only grass. Giving cows grain does increase their milk production. A cow is no different from a bison, deer, or elk in this regard.

    While grain does increase milk production, it also increases a cow's tendency toward mastitis, milk fever, laminitis, and mineral deficiencies. (Hence the need for professional nutritionists on industrial dairy farms.) Milk produced by cows living on healthy pasture has a much higher yield of butter fat, vitamin A, and conjugated linoleic acid. Industrial milk is not equal in quality to grass fed dairy.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Grass does grow for free, which substantially defrays the cost of keeping an organic cow. Especially if she lives on a well maintained pasture.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Modern science and basic dairy cattle nutrition standards differ with you findings. Cows require a balance diet, which could include grass, to maintain optimum health. A pasture based diet might work for some dairy farms depending on their location and availability of plentiful grass year-around. Most pasture based diets require a supplimental feed since grass doesn't contain all the nutrients a healthy, productive cow requires. Would you prefer eating one single food or do you each a variety of foods because each contains different nutrients your body requires?

    Regarding grass being "free", what is the cost/value of the land the grass is growing on? Managed pasture requires irrigation, seed, etc. There are costs to growing quality pasture.


    All milk is healthy and nutritious!

    ReplyDelete
  15. I hear you. But modern science and basic dairy cattle nutrition standards are based on concentrated feed lot cattle--such as yours, right? We don't need modern science to tell us ruminants digest grass. Of course you know, cows don't really live on grass anyway. Cows live on the bacteria in their rumens that digest grass. Joel Salatin's "Salad Bar Beef" has a good description of well managed healthy forage for cows.

    For you to say grass does not contain all the nutrients a healthy productive cow requires is a bit specious. Because we know 100% for certain that no cow requires grain at all. Unless you want to push them for production.

    ReplyDelete
  16. I didn't say cows require grain. I don't think your interested in having a discussion, your mind is made up.

    ReplyDelete
  17. I genuinely am very interested in having a discussion. I am a mother who bought a cow, having never met one, to secure healthy milk for my family. That was 5 years ago. And everything I've learned since then contradicts what you tell me. Which I think is very curious. It is true that you are selling something here, while I am not selling anything. So, I think I'm correct to be a bit skeptical? And that's a good thing, if your industry truly has nothing to hide. Right? Maybe you have things to teach here--real genuine concrete cow knowledge based on fact rather than industry perspective?

    I thought you were saying cows require grain or they would have nutritional deficiencies. Sorry if I miss understood you. We agree then that cows are actually grass fed ruminants that don't need grain?

    ReplyDelete
  18. The purpose of my blog is to share what we do on our family dairy farm. Both my husband and I were raised on dairy farms, have been involved the dairy business all of our lives and have a long family history in dairy. Our lives are centered around our farm.

    There are many ways to care for cows and produce quality milk. Dairy farms share many things in common, but also have differences based on their location, labor situation, size of farm, size of family involved in the farm, availability of feedstuffs, etc. etc. The last thing I want to do is tell another dairy producer what is best for their farm.

    Your experience raising one cow for five years is obviously different than our experience caring for 600 milk cows for generations. The best diet for our cows might not be the best diet for a cow living on a farm in another part of the country or even down the street. That is for the dairy producer and their nutritionist to decide. It’s ok for my cows to have a different diet than your cow.

    Just because I don’t subscribe to your theories doesn’t mean I have something to hide. I write this blog to share what we do, if I wanted to hide something I certainly wouldn’t open our farm to hundreds of visitors annually. I’m all about sharing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow, have just found your site and I am so proud of you! You do a wonderful job of explaining your business and a great job of replying to your readers which is extremely complicated as everyone comes from a different background.
      We retired after 45 yrs in the dairy business, even more yrs as we were both raised on dairy farms so worked with our parents from the time we could walk. So sad that kids on farms don't get to have a degree for what they've all learned at home. Always feel sad for the kid whose parents go off to work in some big concrete box and they don't get to go along and learn at their side.
      Keep up the good work.
      Dee

      Delete
  19. Thank you Dee. I'm glad you found my blog! I was also raised on a dairy and am so glad I can raise my children on a farm. Many lessons are learned on a farm and it's a great foundation for life!

    ReplyDelete
  20. This blog is great and I learned a lot keep up the good work!

    ReplyDelete
  21. Thanks for opening your farm to the public for educational purposes. Your kids are truly blessed to be raised on a farm. We are homesteaders and have a family milk cow (Guernsey) and live in the deep south so we do get to graze all but a few weeks a year. I think the confusion comes in comparing dairy cows with bison, deer, or even beef cows. It is true that bovine were developed on grass alone but dairy cows have been bred for generations to produce much more than their calf would need. When you move from a lawn more engine to a jet engine, you better have some jet fuel to get off the ground. It is a tight rope to give the cow what she needs while not overloading the rumen with grain that becomes acidic. You obviously want what's best for your cows and family and love them both. Thanks for sharing with all of us. Remember, you can't please everyone!

    ReplyDelete
  22. I appreciate your common sense approach. I respect people have different opinions and understand many are very passionate about animal care. There is more than one good way to raise and feed cattle. Best of luck to you and your family!

    ReplyDelete
  23. What an excellent blog. We are Dairy Farming in New Zealand and it is always great to learn new farming techniques from other farmers.
    We have a grass based system, which also includes grass silage and have palm kernel available in the shed if they want it. There is a lot in the media about Palm Kernel and how we shouldn't be feeding it. The cows love it and it keeps their copper levels up. We have cobalt deficiences in our soil in this area, so also have to make sure that the cows B12 and Selenium levels are adequate. The cows are wintered off farm, usually on Kale with Straw and Balage, or oats and ryecorn if we can find someone to grow that crop. This year we are going to winter them at a graziers who will keep them under cover, so it will be interesting to see how much weight they put on when they don't have to battle the elements, and to also see whether it causes more milk fever or mastitis. Shelley Krieger

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for sharing Shelley. It's good to hear from a dairy farmer in New Zealand! I've been reading about the drought conditions affecting New Zealand farmers and hope your family and cows are minimally impacted.

      Delete
  24. Thanks for the reply. The drought is worse in the North Island with some herds dried off already, 3 months earlier than usual. Thats the only thing about a grass based diet, if you don't get any rain then you have no grass, and any supplementary feeds race up in price so it becomes unaffordable to continue milking, but you still have to buy in feed for the cows when they aren't milking (of course you know that, but I'm trying to write for the people that don't dairy full time). We went on once a day milking a couple of weeks ago and only have 2 weeks of silage left, so no doubt we will be getting rid of our culls and older empty (not in calf) cows shortly and will start drying off any lighter ones. The dairy payout is also down on last year, so most farmers are just treading water with bills outweighing income. We are hoping an announcement by Fonterra on the 27th will say that they will increase the advance payments so that we can all start paying all our bills. It's crazy stuff that the high that has been over NZ stopping us from getting rain has held a low over Australia and they were getting flooded! What is the season doing for you? Shelley

    ReplyDelete
  25. We face many of the same challenges here. The price of feed is extremely high which makes it difficult to be profitable. Some areas of the U.S. experienced drought conditions in 2012, which means feed supplies are short. It's difficult to find hay, and other forages, to purchase. What we do find is expensive. We're located in northeast Ohio, so we usually get adequate rainfall. We're hoping for a "normal" growing season across the U.S. this year which will decrease feed prices. Each year about 2,000 U.S. dairy farmers exit the dairy business. Today we have about 49,000 dairy farms in the U.S. Until dairy farming becomes more profitable that trend will continue.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Shelley here again in NZ. We dried the cows off today and they go out to winter grazing now and come back on the 1st of August. Our calving is due to start on the 8th of August. Last night the winter weather started with rain and blustery winds. Tomorrow they are forcasting snow down to sea level. Yuck. Fortunately this year our cows will be wintered inside a shed. Most other cows will spend the winter on crops of fodder beet, kale or swedes with hay, straw and balage as extra supplement. As I am also a Dairy Stock and Grazing Agent I put a lot of other peoples cows out onto grazing and have to monitor them on a weekly basis to make sure that they are getting fed properly. How is it going on your farm?

      Delete
    2. We're in planting season; applying manure onto the fields, disking and planting. We recently harvested the rye grass we planted last fall and are getting ready to plant Sudan grass on those fields. We'll plant corn on the rest of our farm ground that we'll take off this fall as silage. We're about half done with planting.

      Purchased feed (soybean meal, ground corn, hay, etc.) continue to be very expensive. We're hoping for a good planting, growing and harvest season which will increase the supply of livestock feed in this country causing the price to decrease.

      Delete
  26. Hi Dairy Mom, how is your season going?
    We have almost finished calving and the weather has been really good but we could do with some warmer weather to get the grass to grow. North of here in Canterbury they have had huge winds that knocked over about 800 large irrigation systems and mangled them. It will be months before they are back up and running again. Also the wind decimated hundreds of shelter belts so there is a big mess to clean up. Typical, when our payout this season is supposed to be pretty good. Because the power poles and lines also came down many cows didn't get milked for at least 36 hours. Poor cows. Still there are hundreds of shed without power who are operating by sharing generators when they can. The cows are just beginning to peak, so we feel for them. We don't get any government subsidies over here.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Good to hear from you! Sorry to hear about the irrigation system damage and power outages. I can relate to needing warm weather to get the grass growing. We had a cooler than normal summer, which is good for the cows but not so good for growing Sudan grass. We harvested our 2nd cutting of Sudan about 2 weeks ago and hope to harvest a 3rd cutting this fall. We're getting ready to harvest our corn for silage. It's vital to have a good harvest to ensure our cows will have enough quality corn silage throughout the year. American farmers are in the process of harvesting the largest corn crop ever, so the price of corn is dropping. This is not good news for grain farmers but its welcomed relief for dairy/livestock farmers. We don't have a calving season here, but we did have a busy maternity barn in August with higher than normal calving activity. I think your country has a good system with no government subsidies. When government gets involved in selecting which agriculture products to support, it creates havoc in the marketplace. For example, the U.S. government decided to heavily subsidize corn ethanol which has caused very high corn prices. This is good for grain farmers, but very damaging to dairy/livestock producers who purchase corn to feed animals.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Hi Dairy Mom, Shelley here in NZ again. How is the weather impacting your farming operation at the moment. We keep seeing on TV the awful winter weather that the States has been having.

    ReplyDelete
  29. We're having a colder than normal winter here in Ohio. We've experienced several days below freezing with temperatures as cold as minus 32 degrees F. It hasn't been above freezing in several days and the weather forecast has these cold temperatures continuing for the next several weeks. This cold weather is hardest on equipment and people. The cows are doing well and stay warm in their barn. The extremely cold weather and snow has caused my kids school to cancel classes 7 days since January 1st. On the west coast, California is experiencing a serious drought. Which is causing problems, and will have an impact, on dairy and crop farmers in that state. How are things going in New Zealand?

    ReplyDelete
  30. Brrr! Glad it's not like that here. We've had a cooler and wetter summer than normal. Over the past few days we've had over 42mls of rain, which was very much needed as the ground had become quite hard from the winds we've been having too.
    Production is well up. We've got more chicory in the pastures this year which is awesome when it gets dry, and there is more clover, ever since we introduced a wee wasp to kill the clover root weevil. We've only had one flight so far this season of the Porina moth, which is another pest we have to deal with. Normally in summer we get up to 32 degrees celcius and in winter the coldest we've ever had was minus 9 degrees celcius. Not sure what they are in fahrenheit. Our cows stay outside all year, unless you have the money to build an expensive herd home. I think now a herd home (where the effluent gets stored underneath the home) that will hold only 200 cows costs about $350,000NZ. There is so much emphasis on not letting any effluent reach a waterway that it is becoming increasingly difficult and expensive to milk cows. When it does become too expensive I wonder what people will do when they can no longer afford milk, butter, cheese, yoghurts etc.

    ReplyDelete
  31. Would just like to thank you for posting this, it's been very helpful for some work I've had to do and has covered a lot of aspects, so thank you very much for sharing! :)

    ReplyDelete
  32. Antony Nderitu.
    am happy to read what you have as part of increasing the milk productivity, am individual interested in dairy farming, so am conducting some research on how to better and be out standing it the venture.
    From Kenya.

    ReplyDelete

Thank you for reading my blog and taking the time to comment! I’m opening the doors of our farm to share with you and enjoy engaging in discussion. Please be respectful in your comments. I reserve the right to remove posts that include name calling, slander, and vulgar language or contain links to websites that assault animal agriculture.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...