What do cows eat? Last year I made a little survey that I sent out to friends who sent it to their friends and so on, until I had well over 200 responses from folks of all walks of life and from all over the country. I wanted to know how people outside of the bubble of agriculture really feel about food and farming. So I asked… Do you buy organic? Do you have concerns about how your food is produced? ect. The last question I asked was “What ingredients make up cow feed?”, I asked this because I had been hearing some really interesting ideas about what goes into breakfast for cows. The responses were interesting and varied.
The survey says.
I was happy to see that many had a pretty good idea of what cows eat. But there were also several people who thought we fed lots of corn to our cows or fed our cows, dead cows. Lately there has been an article floating around that says we are feeding chicken litter or chicken manure to our cows. Many people thought that the size of the farm dictated what ingredients were used, with small farms feeding “good” things and large farms feeding “bad” things.
Because farms around the country use slightly different ingredients in their cow chow recipes based on what they can grow or buy for a reasonable price I have asked other dairy farmers from around the country to share what they feed their cows. I have links to their blogs at the bottom of this post. You can also check out a post about feeding candy to cows HERE.
What is a TMR mixer?
We use a TMR mixer to blend the feed for the cows. TMR stands for Total Mixed Ration, think of it as a food processor for cow feed. We work with a dairy cattle nutritionist to design our recipe. Each group of cows gets a specially designed meal to meet their needs. The cows who are milking get a high energy feed, the cows who are on “vacation” before they calve get a diet with lots of fiber to keep them full and at a good weight, our heifers get a special mix that provides what they need to grow. It’s a big balancing act and the mix is constantly tweaked to make sure it’s right.
What our cows eat-
This is our current recipe for our milking herd. It is broke down into what each cow gets per day.
High Moisture Corn– 13.5lbs.
High Moisture Corn is corn that has been ground up and fermented. You can read more about it HERE.
Our protein is made up of ground soybeans.
Corn Silage– 35lbs.
Corn Silage is the entire corn plant, stalk, leaves and all that is chopped up fine and fermented.
Chopped up and fermented Alfalfa hay.
Brewer’s Grains– 15lbs.
This is the leftover grains from beer production. The cows love it and it’s an abundant ingredient here in Wisconsin!
Cotton Seed– 6lbs.
After the cotton fiber is processed the seeds are left. This adds a little fat to our diet because of the oil in the seed.
Oat Flour– 4.5lbs.
Just what it sounds like, flour made from oats.
Just like your daily multivitamin, our girls get what they need that isn’t in their feed.
So to save you the math, this adds up to 108.48lbs of feed per day, per cow. Since we milk about 100 cows that means we mix over 10,000lbs of feed each day and that’s just for the milking cows.
The bottom line is that our cows are healthier than most people, we feed them like the high performance athletes that they are. We work hard to ensure that our ladies get exactly what they need and that means we work hard to grow and produce the best feed we can. That’s not just the case on our farm either! Check out the following blogs to get see for yourself what other farmers feed their cows.
What other farms feed their cows.
Sarah is a dairy nutritionist from Southwest Wisconsin, she does a great job explaining why we are so particular with what we feed our cows. Check out her post here, on her brand new blog!
My friend Robin is a Dairy Nutritionist and is a great source of information. She wrote a guest post for Cause Matters that shows how cow feed recipes have changed and developed to meet the needs of dairy cows over time, check it out HERE!
Our neighbor wrote a great guest post about what they feed on their dairy farm, Pat was inspired to share her farm’s story and recipe after reading a story in Consumer Reports that was full of misinformation. Check out her post here on the SlowMoneyFarm blog.
The Zweber Family’s Organic Dairy farm is in Minnesota, Emily and Tim show how they make feed for the cows on their farm here, with lots of great pictures too!
The Dairy Goddess shares what Chica the cow and the rest of the girls eat on their California Dairy here.
I hope these links put to rest any misinformation, lies, untruths and confusion about what cows eat. No dead cows, no hormones, a few surprises, but all in all not exactly shocking. As always the best place to get accurate information is straight from the source.
**This is an updated version of an old post that you can find HERE