What do cows eat?


December 20, 2013 by dairycarrie

Do cows eat chicken poop?

This is a handful of dairy cow feed also called TMR.

Last year I made a little survey that I sent out to friends who sent it to their friends and so on, until I had well over 200 responses from folks of all walks of life and from all over the country. I wanted to know how people outside of the bubble of agriculture really feel about food and farming. So I asked… Do you buy organic? Do you have concerns about how your food is produced? ect. The last question I asked was “What ingredients make up cow feed?”, I asked this because I had been hearing some really interesting ideas about what goes into breakfast for cows. The responses were interesting and varied. I was happy to see that many had a pretty good idea of what cows eat. But there were also several people who thought we fed lots of corn to our cows or fed our cow, dead cows. Lately there has been an article floating around that says we are feeding chicken litter or chicken manure to our cows. Many people thought that the size of the farm dictated what ingredients were used, with small farms feeding “good” things and large farms feeding “bad” things.

Because farms around the country use slightly different ingredients in their cow chow recipes based on what they can grow or buy for a reasonable price I have asked other dairy farmers from around the country to share what they feed their cows. I have links to their blogs at the bottom of this post.

feeding cows corn

This is Todd, he’s our nutritionist and he’s grabbing a sample of our ensiled hay to check the nutrition levels on.

We use a TMR mixer to blend the feed for the cows. TMR stands for Total Mixed Ration, think of it as a food processor for cow feed. We work with a dairy cattle nutritionist to design our recipe. Each group of cows gets a specially designed meal to meet their needs. The cows who are milking get a high energy feed, the cows who are on “vacation” before they calve get a diet with lots of fiber to keep them full and at a good weight, our heifers get a special mix that provides what they need to grow. It’s a big balancing act and the mix is constantly tweaked to make sure it’s right.

TMR ration for cows

This is our TMR mixer truck. We load the ingredients into the mixer and the augers turn and mix them together.

This is our current recipe for our milking herd. It is broke down into what each cow gets per day.

High Moisture Corn– 13.5lbs.

High Moisture Corn is corn that has been ground up and fermented.

Protein– 5lbs.

Our protein is made up of ground soybeans.

Corn Silage– 35lbs.

Corn Silage is the entire corn plant, stalk, leaves and all that is chopped up fine and fermented.

Haylage– 28lbs.

Chopped up and fermented Alfalfa hay.

Brewer’s Grains– 15lbs.

This is the leftover grains from beer production. The cows love it and it’s an abundant ingredient here in Wisconsin!

Cotton Seed– 6lbs.

After the cotton fiber is processed the seeds are left. This adds a little fat to our diet because of the oil in the seed.

Oat Flour– 4.5lbs.

Just what it sounds like, flour made from oats.

Vitamins/Minerals– 1.5lbs.

Just like your daily multivitamin, our girls get what they need that isn’t in their feed.

So to save you the math, this adds up to 108.48lbs of feed per day, per cow. Since we milk about 100 cows that means we mix over 10,000lbs of feed each day and that’s just for the milking cows.

What do cows eat?

The ingredients we use for cow feed on our farm.

The bottom line is that our cows are healthier than most people, we feed them like the high performance athletes that they are. We work hard to ensure that our ladies get exactly what they need and that means we work hard to grow and produce the best feed we can.  That’s not just the case on our farm either! Check out the following blogs to get see for yourself what other farmers feed their cows.

Sarah is a dairy nutritionist from Southwest Wisconsin, she does a great job explaining why we are so particular with what we feed our cows. Check out her post here, on her brand new blog!

My friend Robin wrote a post today that talks more about feeding byproducts to dairy cows. She is a Dairy Nutritionist and is a great source of information. Check out her post here on Just Farmers. She also wrote a guest post for Cause Matters a while ago that shows how cow feed recipes have changed and developed to meet the needs of dairy cows over time, check it out here, it’s a pretty interesting read!

Our neighbor wrote a great guest post about what they feed on their dairy farm, Pat was inspired to share her farm’s story and recipe after reading a story in Consumer Reports that was full of misinformation. Check out her post here on the SlowMoneyFarm blog. 

Dr. Kathy Swift is a dairy cow Veterinarian (and artist!) from Florida, she did a guest post a while back on what dairy cows eat in Florida. Check it out here, who knew cows liked oranges? 

Brenda is a dairy farmer and a Mom in Ohio, her family milks 600 cows and she shares their farm’s recipe for cow feed here, on her blog. 

Dairy farmer, Ray Prock from California shows what he feeds the cows on his family’s California dairy farm here.

The Zweber Family’s Organic Dairy farm is in Minnesota, Emily and Tim show how they make feed for the cows on their farm here, with lots of great pictures too! 

Jodi Oleen shares her experiences Brewers Grain, from the other side of the beer bottle after she and her new husband buy some beef steers! Check out her funny post here.

The Dairy Goddess shares what Chica the cow and the rest of the girls eat on their California Dairy here. 

I hope these links put to rest any misinformation, lies, untruths and confusion about what cows eat. No dead cows, no hormones, a few surprises, but all in all not exactly shocking. As always the best place to get accurate information is straight from the source.  I hope that everyone listed here today can become a source of information for you so you can make the best decisions at the grocery store for your family. As always I ask that you please share this post, help farmers get their stories out and be heard!

**This is an updated version of an old post that you can find HERE**

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23 thoughts on “What do cows eat?

  1. Alyce Machado Luis says:

    Are you on Facebook with a link to your blog? I love your explanations and want the WORLD to follow you!! Thanks for doing what you do!!! A. M. Luis Sent from my iPad


  2. reddeviljp says:

    remember what caused ‘Mad cow Disease’ in the UK (Bovine spongiform encephalopathy! ). It was the idiot farmers who cut corners on cow feed and poisoned their own herds.


    • dairycarrie says:

      Yep, that was horrible. Doesn’t mean that’s what we do today here in the US.

      • Gary Wybenga says:

        are dairy cattle in the USA ever fed “chicken litter” at any stage of their life or are the “chicken litter free” their entire lives

        • dairycarrie says:

          I’ve never heard of cows being fed chicken litter at any stage of their lives.

        • Gary Wybenga says:

          I do know some dairies who fed heifers in the past but I don’t know about the present. I am more concerned about GMO feeds being fed heavily right now

        • dairycarrie says:

          What do you mean some dairies that fed heifers?

          We feed GMO and non GMO feeds and have seen no difference in our animals.

        • Gary Wybenga says:

          nobody noticed any difference when they fed chicken litter either. Did you know Whole Foods is going to stop carrying Chobani greek yogurt because the cows are fed GMO because consumers are demanding it. I wouldn’t store up to much GMO feed for the cows!

        • dairycarrie says:

          I don’t buy Chobani either because I prefer Oikos. That doesn’t mean Oikos needs to use the same culture as Chobani. The market has room for options. Whole Foods is one small sector of the grocery store market. Their customers aren’t your average shoppers. I’m not going to base my planting and growing plans off of what one random person on the internet tells me about the purchasing whims of a specialty grocery store.

        • Gary Wybenga says:

          It is not the culture that was GMO it was the feed being fed to the cows. It is just the start of change,

        • dairycarrie says:

          No, but the culture is what makes Oikos taste different than Chobani.

    • it wasn’t idiot farmers trying to cut corners on cow feed. it was an accepted practice used by everyone around the world to provide a source of protein for their animals. Accepted practices change over time, that is a practice that is no longer used in Canada or the US.

  3. agtechtalk says:

    Reblogged this on Ag Tech Talk and commented:
    Great blog post

  4. […] And thus began her post that explained dealing with a down cow in the same matter-of-fact manner as an earlier post about what do cows eat. […]

  5. […] On November 15, 2013 DarLin Dairy officially opened for business upon the arrival of the cows. The cows are pasture raised and are therefore grass fed. There is no difference between milk that comes from pasture fed and those who are not. If cows aren’t raised in a pasture what do they eat? Dairy Carrie has a great blog post about “What Do Cows Eat Anyway?” […]

  6. […] up and walked around the pen we have her in. I smiled. On Sunday morning she had finished all the TMR and hay we had given her and once again she was up and walking around her […]

  7. […] our farm we grow and harvest corn that will later be fed to our cows as a portion of their overall diet called High Moisture Corn or HMC. Unlike shell corn, which is harvested and stored in grain bins […]

  8. […] On November 15, 2013 DarLin Dairy officially opened for business upon the arrival of the cows. The cows are pasture raised and are therefore grass fed. There is no difference between milk that comes from pasture fed and those who are not. If cows aren’t raised in a pasture what do they eat? Dairy Carrie has a great blog post about “What Do Cows Eat Anyway?” […]

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