The Cow’s Grass-Fed Diet

Our posts, Modern Dairy Cow Diets and The Use of Grain, explain in depth the need to create a balanced diet for our cows to be healthy and perform. Those posts also highlight the need for energy in their diets. Energy supports milk production, reproduction, body fat, and metabolism.

Grass-Fed Diet and Grain

Our diet for the grass-fed cows is 20% grains and 80% forages. When you compare that to our cow fed a balanced diet, the ratio is 40% grain and 60% forages. Our grass-fed competitors are 30% grain and 70% forages.

The main reason that we have 20% grain in the diet is to get a concentrated amount of energy into the cow. In our Modern Dairy Cow Diets post, we explain that everything needs to be in balance; too high of one macro has ill effects on the cow. Forages lack the amount of energy that a cow needs for her to fulfill her energy needs. If she were to eat only forages such as grass, she would need to eat a massive amount to meet what she needs. Cows only eat 3%-5% of their total body weight.

Using grains like Barley, Corn or wheat allows us to get the cow the energy she needs in a condensed form leaving more room for fibrous forages. Our post on grain in the diet further explains the need for grain to support a healthy milking cow. Grains are also used to deliver protein to the cow. With our grass-diet, because it has a heavy concentration of Alfalfa hay, we don’t need to supplement protein into the ration through any grain. Alfalfa is a forage rich in protein.

Silage Free Diet

We do not feed our grass-fed cow’s any fermented feeds. Silage (Fermented Feed) is a way of storing feed. We take the entire plant and cut it up into small pieces, then we pack it into a pile tightly, removing all the air.
Although a fantastic feed source for cows, we do not feed it to our grass-fed cows because it can affect the milk being produced.

Challenges

We often talk about our priorities as farmers: the wellbeing of our animals, producing safe and nutritious foods, maintaining or improving the productivity of our field, being stewards of the environment, and having a profitable business.

Grass-Fed is a consumer-led initiative because of the health benefits that grass-fed dairy has. It is though challenging from a farmer’s perspective, especially if you keep our priorities in mind. As dairy farmers, the main priority is to ensure that we have healthy cows. The restrictions of a grass-fed diet do limit our ability to deliver to our cows the optimal nutrition they need to perform and thrive.

Progression in dairy farming has been to create efficiencies in milk production, genetics and better feeding resulted in huge gains. The environmental footprint has been a benefit of this progress. Modern farms are producing the same amount of milk today, with 20% of the cows a farm would have had 70 years ago, and we are using 10% of the land. A cow fed a grass-fed diet produces 30% less then a cow fed a Balanced-Diet, and she requires land because we pasture her. We need more resources to produce the same amount of milk, and that has an effect on the environment if we need to milk more cows too.

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