Friday, September 18, 2009

What we feed our Dairy Cows

This is always such a hot topic. Something I'm constantly tweaking and learning about. My ideal would probably be to have completely grassfed dairy cows, but I've finally gotten it through my head that this is NOT the climate to try to do that in.
First the forage component of their diet. This is big. We are actually understocked with our cows per acre, but it does allow us to stockpile a little grass so our cows get out and graze a few weeks earlier in the beginning of the season and for at least a month longer than others surrounding us, but even so we are looking at May through October as being completely on pasture and needing no hay supplementation. The cows still have some grazing in November but also transition onto hay, and then December through beginning of May they are completely on Hay. We don't have access to alfafa hay, but my Dad grows a pretty good grass hay with plenty of clover in it. We use 5 ft rounds in a ring feeder so they pretty much have constant access to hay. Last winter the barn doors froze open so I couldn't close them and it was a HARSH stormy winter. The cows ripped through our hay supply, eating enough to keep warm. This year I am hoping to build an oldfashioned tie stall set up for our 8 Jersey girls, and I want to put them in at night so I can shut the barn, and help keep them warmer, hopefully use their hay more efficiently. They would be in a tie stall at night, and loose during the day. We'll feed them hay in their tie stalls. During the day they will have a run-in section of the barn and unlimited access to the round bale. This is what I'm hoping for. It will also make my morning manure clean up easier as well by having it all in a neat line behind the cows. Also we always have issues with the cows bossing the heifers and this way, I'll be able to make sure they get enough to eat.
This is typically the grain portion of their diet. I will admit that I don't think I did service to my cows trying to conform my current cows to a grassfed ideal in the past. This year is different and I have truly fed them what they needed. First off, I have picked the majority of my cows based on whether or not they would be good graziers and low maintanence. These are typically the shorter statured Jerseys, with wide faces, more substance to their bones, " easy keepers " and ones describes as " piggy" with big rumens/barrels. These have been, in my experience traits that have made them the kind of cow I'm looking for. I will admit though, that I'm guilty of choosing a few for sentimental reasons and because they were so pretty!
This years plan has been to feed them what they needed, if it means 10-12lbs of grain a day then so be it. Teeny last year peaked around 5-6 gallons as a 3 year old, this year peaked at 8 gallons/day and has been hard to keep in condition. I don't think I caught on quick enough, she dropped weight, making that much milk and now is gaining, shiny looks lovely! What I learned through her is that it is necessary for those high producers to add fat to their diet, as well as energy. I knew she had enough protein through her 16% grain, and all that green grass. Sources of energy I have used are her grain, molasses- which is also mineral rich-. For fat I added black oil sunflower seeds or BOSS for short. I'm pretty encouraged with the results thus far, shiny coat, steady weight gain. As the protein in the grass has dropped, I've also added some alfalfa pellets to their grain. Incidentally, I've also noticed that alfalfa increases the creamline too! Probably adds some vit A too, although it is dried and pelleted not sure about that content.
As I mentioned in my milk fever post, I've had a mineral reawakening! I've provided free choice minerals off and on for years but got serious about it in regards to milk fever prevention. Now I use dry cow minerals while they are dry and haven't had a case of milk fever since. If you google Vit E supplementation and reduction of mastitis, you'll see a correlation there as well. Also I think its a good idea to supplement vit E in the winter as there is obviously less in dry stored feed versus frsh green grass. Deficincy in vit E can show up as reduced shelf life for your milk, an off taste, fertility issues in your cow. Plus several more. So we feed minerals free choice, and dry cow in their ration before calving, free choice kelp, salt, and vit E . I found a bag of powdered vit E at the feed store for $25. It must be at least 25lbs.
So these are my current thoughts. Currently they are grazing to their hearts content, eating 16% dairy feed with alfalfa pellets and boss added, as well as minerals, kelp and vit E.
This is subject to change and differs a little for each cow, but this is the best they have ever looked,shiny, smooth coats, good color,good flesh and I get compliments on their beauty and condition frequently! I love my cows!


  1. Thanks for posting this, Jessika. I want to take a picture of Butter and send to you. I would love your honest opinion at where I am at with her. I do think the BOSS and Molasses are helping.

    I have been thinking about you. So glad the walk went so well!


  2. Send a pic Tammy. I've been thinking of you too!