The Dairy Man and I aren’t diet fanatics, but we do pay attention to what we eat. Fruits and veggies are a must. Processed foods are limited. French fries, soda, and candy are seldom (though all bets are off during jellybean season). A balanced diet is very important.
Cows aren’t entirely different. My Dairy Man pays close attention to the diet of our bovine ladies to make sure that they stay healthy, happy, and high on the milk producing charts.
Before I moved to a dairy, I thought all farm animals ate …well… hay. That’s the iconic mental picture, right? In the far off, seldom-used corner of our brains entitled “what happens on a farm,” we see an overall-clad farmer, chewing a stalk of wheat, and heaving hay into a trough with a pitchfork. At least that’s what I thought.
But the process of feeding dairy cows is infinitely more complex than that. Dairy farmers have to be part nutritionist, part scientist, and part ecologist in order to properly feed the herd. On our dairy, we feed the cows something called a Total Mix Ration, or TMR. This TMR is comprised of several different commodities (found below).
Our cows are fed once a day, typically after their first milking. While the ladies are in the parlor doing their thing, one of our employees hops into the tractor and pulls the mixer wagon (the dapper blue apparatus) to the commodities shed.
This is our commodities shed.
Each section holds a different tasty element of our cows’ feed. Think of it as the cow salad bar. Each component of the feed is mixed together into a carefully constructed ration inside the mixer wagon. This wagon is essentially a KitchenAid mixer on wheels. It doesn’t come in a plethora of pretty colors, but it gets the job done.
The metal blades spin as the ingredients are added and blend them together.
In addition to hay and corn silage, our TMR contains…
Once dinner is prepared, the tractor drives through the barns and deposits the food into the feed bunks (which, as far as I can determine, is just what we call the space on the floor directly in front of the cows).
Each ingredient in our TMR plays a different role in growing healthy cows. Just like people, cows need the right amounts of proteins, starches, and carbs. Despite the deliciousness, we can’t eat a diet of pizza and Whoppers. And cows can’t eat a diet of just corn, or just hay. Our ladies need a balanced diet with the proper nutrient structure.
But the cows don’t exhaust themselves thinking about nutrition. They trust us. Eating is just a favorite activity, right up there with napping, socializing, and chewing cud.