On average, a dairy cow can eat up to 100 lbs. of feed a day! On our farm, our cows get a TMR also known as a “total mixed ration”. All that means is that all the ingredients for their diet are mixed together and fed to the cows.
I am sure by now you may have heard that dairy cows are fed a diet of corn. Our cows do have corn in their diet, but is not all they eat. Their diet can change from time to time if the feed quality fluctuates or with the availability of certain hay or grains. Each farm does things differently so I thought I would share what we do on our farm.
So what do our 140 milk cows eat each day? Our ration from this past spring includes the following average per cow:
Dry Alfalfa Hay- 13 lbs. accounts for 16.5% of the cow’s diet.
Alfalfa Silage- 40 lbs. accounts for 50.6% of the cow’s diet.
Ground Corn- 11 lbs. accounts for 13.9% of the cow’s diet.
Ground Barley- 4.5 lbs. accounts for 5.7% of the cow’s diet.
Ground Wheat- 4.5 lbs. accounts for 5.7% of the cow’s diet.
Corn Distillers- 3.5 lbs. accounts for 4.4% of the cow’s diet.
Canola- 1/2 lb. accounts for 1.9% of the cow’s diet.
Vitamin & Mineral Mix- 1 lb. accounts for 1.3% of the cow’s diet.
Note: Vitamins & Minerals added simply because it is part of their daily ration.
We also feed a free choice mineral mix and sodium bicarbonate. What that means is we have an open mineral feeder that the cows can eat whenever they want in addition to what we mix with their feed. The sodium bicarbonate aka baking soda helps if a cow has an upset stomach. She will know before we do and she can typically fix the problem before it becomes a bigger issue.
All our alfalfa hay, silage , barley and wheat comes from local farmers. Everything else, we purchase from the closest grain elevator. A grain elevator is where grain that is purchased from farmers is stored and re-sold to farmers like us. Each year what is available locally plays a huge part in what and how much we purchase from the elevator. Doing business with local farmers cuts out the middle man and saves us money. This is where a continued relationship with our nutritionist is important. Cows are creatures of habit, this especially includes what they eat. Being consistent is very important but not always possible. If we have to change anything in their diet, we consult our nutritionist to make sure their dietary needs are still being met.
It’s also important to note that the dietary needs change throughout our herd. The younger animals diets change several times from the time they are weaned from milk until they give birth to their first calf. In addition, our dry cows diet is completely different from that of the milk cows.
What role does our nutritionist play?
- Has our feed tested for quality & nutrients.
- Helps create specialized diets for our cows needs.
- Takes us out to lunch at the local diner.
- Has become a very good friend.
Okay so the last two things are not really relevant, but the first two are very important. Having our feed tested for quality & nutrients plays a very important role in making sure all the nutritional needs are met for our girls. Once we know the quality of feed we have, our nutritionist is then able to create nutritious meal plan for the girls. Everything is added to make sure they maintain healthy while producing milk. In addition to all that, he is able to calculate how much it costs to feed each cow. Knowing how much it cost to feed each cow is incredibly important to well, staying in business.