Feeding the cows who feed us

Gone are the days when dairy cows just ate grass. These days, there are people who get really geeky about feeding cows. Starch, protein, fat, fibre (only the right type, mind you) and energy levels can be perfected for optimal health and milk production.

This can really only be achieved when cows are fed a total mixed ration (TMR) and is more tricky when cows like ours are largely pasture-fed. Still, we can do better, so I was delighted when local DPI extension officer David Shambrook visited today to talk about what we’re feeding.

At the moment, the cows each eat just over 7kg of a rolled wheat, triticale, canola oil, limestone and salts mix during milking. The herd is also allocated about 2.9 hectares of fresh grass per day and fed two bales of top quality vetch hay (10.3 megajoules of energy and 22.8% crude protein for the benefit of farmer readers).

David had a look at the pasture they’ve left in the paddock, the pasture they’ll go to next, the milk production stats, the cows’ body condition score, whether they are chewing their cuds, their manure and rumen fill (indicated by how much a triangle of flesh bulges out). All these signs point to whether the cows are being well fed.

I have a gut feel (forgive the pun) for all of this but am determined to learn more about dairy cow nutrition. The combination of intellectual and physical challenges is one of the things I love most about dairy farming.

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