When I think of feed for our dairy cows, I think of grass. Unlike cows in much colder climates, ours live in the paddocks all year round and pasture is the “bread and butter” of their diets. Really, apart from hay baled in the summer and fed out in the depths of winter, that’s all our cows used to eat when I was a kid.
Everything changed, though, when a vicious drought desiccated Australia in 1982/83. That year, a massive dust storm blanketed Melbourne, ensuring that even inner-city dwellers felt the searing fury of mother nature. Like their neighbours, Mum and Dad cut every expense they could, right down to cancelling their newspaper subscription.
In desperation, they turned to grain to supplement the cows’ diets. And never looked back. We’re lucky in Australia to have such great wheat growers practically on our doorsteps. With grain at reasonable prices, we are able to buffer our cows from mother nature’s tantrums, keeping our cows well-fed, no matter whether it rains too much or too little. It also means our cows are able to produce more milk from less land – something that’s increasingly important as the population continues to climb.
Just as I created a breakfast for Zoe with the right building blocks of protein, fibre and carbs this morning, we offer the cows fibre, starch, protein and energy in the form of hay, silage and GM-free grain to top up their grass. So yes, Australian dairy cows are still pasture-fed but, these days, their diet has just a little added variety.