Saturday, March 5, 2016

Dairy FAQ: What do cows eat in the winter?

Spring is just around the corner, but there's still snow on the ground in some areas. With that in mind, what do cows eat in the winter when their pretty green grass is covered in snow and ice?

I'm so glad you asked.

Our dairy cows grazed on pasture and so do the beef cows we have today. There are a lot of different ways to raise dairy cattle and beef cattle and there are so many ways to do things right. That's one of the great things about farming.

We bale hay during the summer when there's lots of grass so that the cows can have nutritious food to eat during the winter when the grass isn't really growing. We don't get a lot of snow in western Washington, but the grass is still not really growing. It rains a lot and the cows love laying out in the pasture in the rain. Silly kiddos.

Beef cows generally need significantly less energy in their diets than dairy cows. I say generally because there are exceptions, such as cows that are nursing a calf and producing milk.

Speaking of producing milk, this takes a lot of energy to do! Dairy cows eat a lot of food and drink a lot of water every day. Many dairies hire an animal nutritionist to balance the ration to ensure that the cows are getting all the nutrients they need. Some dairy farmers balance these rations themselves. They taught us how to do this in several of my animal nutrition classes in college.

This is a free stall barn

A lot of dairy cows live in free stall barns where they always have a roof over their heads to protect them from the harsh winter weather and provide shade and adequate ventilation during the hot summer months. They can pick any bed they'd like, but since they are creatures of habit they tend to sleep in the same spot day after day. They also have access to food and water whenever they want and can move around as they please. Many times, cows in free stall barns will eat a total mixed ration (TMR), which is a casserole of ingredients like corn silage, hay, soybean meal, cotton seed meal, vitamins/minerals, and other feeds cows think are delicious.

Cows that are mainly grazing on pasture generally have something else to supplement their diets, too. Perhaps ground corn, which is a good source of energy, mixed with a pre-mixed vitamin and mineral mixture. In the winter, they have hay.

Our camellias are already starting to bloom, daffodils are out and it's almost tulip season! The Tulip Festival and the tulips are my favorite part of spring back home.

You aren't truly a Washingtonian unless you have a ton of pictures with the tulip fields

With the weather warming up, a lot of farmers are getting anxious to get out in the fields and start planting. It's almost that time again!

Here are some other springtime posts you may enjoy:

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