Today’s dairy cows are athletes and that we must balance the macronutrients to promote milk production and keep the cow health. One ingredient that is vilified by mainstream thinking is the use of grain in animal diets. The use of grain in balance with the other macronutrients is one of the best ways to deliver Carbohydrates and Protein to our cows. Modern Dairy Cow Nutrition
We must be delivering the right amount of energy to our cows that are producing milk. A cow needs an adequate amount of energy to support her metabolism, general activity, milk production, a healthy pregnancy, and to maintain body weight. Milk production uses the most energy, and our cows today produce more milk than cows 50 years ago, so their diets changed.
When our cows are low energy compared to their needs, we create an energy deficiency. This deficiency will have adverse effects. Genetically she will prioritize milk production and with energy being an essential nutrient for milk production. She will first try to replace that lack of energy by metabolizing body fat as an energy source. Once that source is depleted, or concurrently, she will start to reduce the amount of milk she produces reducing her energy needs. Energy is also essential for the reproductive organs. When she is energy deficient, her body will enter a “protective state” and “turn-off” her reproductive system.
Grass-based forages are low in energy and high in fibre. Forages play an essential roll in the health of the cow as it helps maintain the process of rumination. Dairy cows will eat 3-5% of their body weight. Our nutritionist needs to be wise with how we fit everything she needs within the 5 % that she eats. Grains such as Corn, Barely, and Wheat carry a lot of easily digestible energy. Therefore, we will use these grains as a source to boost her energy intake without taking too much room in her Rumen. As her energy needs decrease, we will reduce or eliminate the amount of grain we feed.
When we feed a grass-fed diet, we are always on the edge of the cow being in energy-deficient, this is why we feed 20% grain.
Post-calving her intake is much lower than 5% of her body weight, but her energy requirements are very high. It is very challenging to maintain a well-balanced diet and fulfil her energy requirements, so she will likely burning some body fat as an energy source. This is why we don’t want the cows to lose any weight while milking. We prefer to see her put on a bit of body fat leading into her rest period, which is 60 days before she calves again.
Energy is a significant component in maintaining the health of a modern milking cow. We, as farmers, work closely with our nutritionist to make sure that we are feeding our cows a proper diet that promotes health along with milk production.
We fulfill the protein demands of our cows by feeding Canola Meal or Soybean Meal. Both grains are by-products of the production of human consumption vegetable oil. Protein can also come from feeding certain forages like Alfalfa, which we are feeding. But with limited space in the stomach, we need to be mindful of what is taking up space within her stomach. We want her to eat a balanced diet. Using Canola or Soy, we can provide a concentrated amount of protein without taking up too much room.
Our Grass-fed diet uses a lot of Alfalfa, so the 20% grain that we feed is mostly for energy. We rely on her getting her protein from the Alfalfa.
Balance is critical in developing the diet for our conventional cows, too much or too little of one macronutrient will cause our cows to be unhealthy. We need to find the balance.