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What do Cows Really Eat?

June 11, 2012

There is a great deal of information and misinformation about what animals on farms eat. Many who follow agriculture know that “June is dairy month”, and as that is something we’ve had a hand in and hopefully will one day again, we wanted to reach out. Our guest post today brought to you by Pat Dolph. With the many people spreading misinformation that cows are fed corn at such high levels they get sick, it’s time to take a look at what really is in a dairy cow’s feed. Come along and see how it’s done on a typical dairy!

Don and Pat have farmed since 1980, and in 2003 their son and his wife joined them to create an LLC. They farm in Wisconsin, milking about 400 cows, with about the same number of youngsters growing.
Don grew up on a dairy farm in central Minnesota, and went to a 2 year dairy program at University of Minnesota on GI Bill (he’s a Vietnam Vet). Don also attended diesel school while in Marines. Pat took college bookkeeping & business law classes while the kids were little. Son Chet now has 2 year diesel mechanics degree MATC and together he and Don can take tractors apart etc. This saves a large amount of money in repairs on the farm. Chet also took farm shortcourse UW and Patty has 4 year UW degree in Animal Science. Chet&Patty have two little girls Olivia & Gracie.
The cows all lay in sand filled comfy freestalls with sprinklers & fans on hot days and curtains that roll up in the winter to keep it warm.  They have 10 full time employees  and six part-time employees, with a total of 900 acres of corn, wheat, rye, sudan grass, alfalfa hay to provide feed. Don&Pat own the 185 acre farm  while Chet & Patty have 95 acres,and then we rent the rest from several landlords.

This is a typical family run operation, but may also be seen by some as a “factory farm” or other negative term. The fact is, there are real people caring for the cows and producing milk for dairy products for all of us.

So what do their cows eat?

Pantry for a dairy farm! Ingredients for TMR stored here.

Answer:  a “TMR” – that stands for “Total Mixed Ration”

A TMR is a mixture of many different feeds, calculated to meet a cow’s minimum daily requirement  nutrition-wise.
Currently our each cow’s TMR recipe includes
62lbs Corn Silage
12lbs Hayledge
12lbs Wheatledge
9lbs Corn
3lbs Soybean Meal
2lbs Canola Meal
4lbs Cotton Seed
10lbs Whey
Corn silage looks like this. (In the fall, corn plants are chopped up and ensiled. It ferments which preserves it and provides feed over the winter.)

Haylage is made the same way only hay is used instead of corn. Those tires on top hold down the plastic “lid” so it doesn’t blow away (it needs to be airtight for proper fermentation)

Corn is ground up finely.

Cotton seed is a “byproduct” of cotton production. Not only do cows love the seeds, they also make more butter when they eat it.

Whey is a byproduct of cheese. It’s the same kind of whey that is used for energy bars & drinks.

Vitamins & Minerals are bought in bulk to add to the TMR

Everything is mixed together in a big mixer.

How much of each feed is calculated by our nutritionist and then we put it into our computer.

Notice the scale on our mixer that our feeder uses to make sure he puts in exactly the right amount.

Thanks to the Dolph’s for visiting our blog today to show our readers another look at agriculture. Although it’s on a larger scale than our rabbits, what better to top off a meal of rabbit curry than ice cream! It takes all sizes and types of farms to provide food choices, and we hope next time someone tells you cows eat only corn which poisons them, that you’ll think of the Dolph’s farm and what their ration is – only a portion of it is corn.

We love ice cream, butter, cheese and real milk…thanks to farms like the Dolph’s we can enjoy it year round.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. drjeff7 permalink
    June 11, 2012 6:12 PM

    I like the explanation. I am focusing mainly on grass fed beef, so TMR is out for now. Many of my dairy farmers feed TMR and have great success.

    • June 11, 2012 9:16 PM

      Thanks for stopping by. Have been thinking of something like TMR for rabbits, only using dried haylage instead of silage or corn (which doesn’t work well for rabbits as cows!). Much different views between species and uses for sure – that’s why I jumped at the chance to host views from a dairy!

  2. JONNY permalink
    May 24, 2013 2:24 AM

    oh yummy so you use gmo corn and gmo soy from monsanto to feed our beef/ wow that is incredibly irresponsible.

    • May 24, 2013 8:48 AM

      Why would you assume they feed GMO corn/soy, or that they buy it from Monsanto? And why do you say these are beef? They grow their own – and never said what varieties they grow. These are dairy cattle, not beef. I sense you’re not here to ask questions but to condemn without knowing. Thanks for stopping by anyway. Questions welcome, attacks are not. For the record – this also was a guest post, as I’m sure you missed that, and we here are heritage/heirloom based. That’s right. NonGMO. Food choices – farm choices.

  3. September 2, 2013 8:24 PM

    Curious, how many acres of pasture would you need to sustain 2-3 dairy cows? What kind of grass or clover would you recommend? I live on the high plains and have no guarantees I could make anything grow, BUT hope springs eternal!

    • September 3, 2013 12:26 PM

      The high plains – as in what state? And what level of production are you seeking to get from the cows? Are you planning on using additional grain? Let me flag a couple fellow dairy experts – but I’m pretty sure they’ll ask these same questions. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!

      • ravenwolfe76 permalink
        September 3, 2013 3:01 PM

        We live in S.E. Wy. We are looking at just for our family of 4. We have 40 acres. If I can avoid grain I would rather. I am looking at either highlanders or short horns. Any input is apreciated. Thanks!

      • September 3, 2013 3:25 PM

        OK – Highlanders good for beef. If you’re looking at dairy, maybe not so much. Will be some other folks chiming in, but from a dairy standpoint Swiss, Holstein, milking sorthorn, Deon probably better.


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