A Cow Nutritionist?

Greetings from 40 degree MN. With highs in the 50’s, fall is undeniably here.

Now, say what about cows having nutritionists? Well, it’s actually true at many farms, and ours is no exception. The dairy cow, a ruminant, has  a pretty complex digestive system with 4 stomachs. Plus – she produces a lot of milk. Eating a nutritious and carefully balanced diet is really important for her health and milk production ( and I would imagine any nursing mother would tell you the same thing!) So…our farm works with a dairy nutritionist to balance the right ration, or mixture, of feed for our cows. I should clarify that this would be for our pregnant heifers and adult cows. Baby calves just get a portion of mixed grain & eventually hay as they start eating solid food.

Making sure that protein, fat and various minerals are all balanced for our cows is just the beginning (which is probably why our nutritionist has a PhD in this area!) Without getting into too much detail that I’m not super-knowledgable about, I’ll just say that an important starting point is to analyze feed ingredients. Remember that corn silage we chopped earlier this fall? Well, it makes up the largest portion of the cow’s feed, and it can vary a lot in nutrient content. Our nutritionist will test it for fat, protein, fiber and other minerals/nutrients and look at the size and composition of the silage particles. He will also help monitor the changes as we use different parts of the silage pile.

Here’s a very simple example of why silage might vary. Ever heard of corn oil? Well, if a certain part of our corn silage had larger corn cobs with more kernels, there will be more fat in that part of the silage because of the increased corn and therefore increased corn oil.

Some of the other feed ingredients we need to add and mix with the silage include things like soybean meal (ground soybeans for protein),  additional ground corn, mineral mixture and hay. Hay is important because a cow needs to eat grasses or long-stemmed forage to keep her digestive system healthy and functioning properly. Sorry for my inadequate animal nutrition lecture! I couldn’t really find a good “ruminant nutrition 101” link because the whole topic is just so broad and complex. If you have any (easy) questions, just let me know. 🙂

Now I’ll get to the good part, the pictures! We have an employee whose specific job is to mix the ration and then feed each pen of cows everyday. Each pen gets their own special mixture and it gets mixed up in this:

A skid loader (there’s a picture of one further down in the post) is used to dump silage and other ingredients into the TMR (total mixed ration) mixer wagon and then blades inside blend the ingredients together. There’s also a scale on the TMR mixer to monitor how much gets added. Then, the tractor can just pull the mixer through the barn and the feed unloads from the front for the cows. Below you can see some hungry cows!

The cows get fed once per day, in the morning, and it’s enough to last until the next morning. As they eat the feed they also push some out of reach, so we use a skid loader to push the feed up throughout the day so it’s back in reach for the cows.

The first photo is my view as I’m in the loader pushing up feed. (Yes, those are my knees.)

Running Tales

After my 5K on Saturday morning I was still itching to run for some reason. Guess that means I didn’t run fast enough? So I did another easy 3.5 miles late that afternoon and ended last week with 14.8 miles. Not a ton, but ok considering I was trying to get over a cold and not push too hard if I ended up racing (which of course I did :-)) I started off the week today with a solid 4 miles. Not too fast, not too slow – I think it was just about right. For you statistics lovers:

And with that, I’m signing off for the night. Have a good one. Don’t forget to ask if you have some dairy nutrition/feed questions. I’ll try to research the answers if I don’t know them!

About Lisa

Hi, I'm Lisa. Dairy farmer's wife and Minnesotan to the core, I write about rural farm life, running down country roads, and the food, faith, and family that bind everything together. Follow along on my journey.
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5 Responses to A Cow Nutritionist?

  1. sweatykid says:

    Today I learned… that cows have nutritionists! Wow — that’s definitely a new one for me… but thinking about it, it makes complete sense to invest in something like that for a larger-scale farm where you’re committed both to producing quality products and giving good treatment to the animals. It’s true that “You are what you eat,” I’m better-nourished if I eat cows (or cow products) that have been better-nourished as their own right. What an interesting thought. It makes me smile to think that cows have nutritionists. Neat. 🙂

  2. Brit says:

    Pretty cool! Until you explained about the variations in the nutrient composition of the silage, I didn’t really understand the need for a cow nutritionist, but after hearing that part, it totally makes sense – especially considering that unlike people, cows probably eat the same thing every day.

    The elevation changes during your run are very similar to what I typically have here…and I live in the hilly part of Indiana. On one hand, I prefer not to run up hill, but o the other hand I feel like I would probably improve more quickly if I was forced to. I grew up in a very hilly area and I always get my butt kicked now when I try to run at home.

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