The autumn season is full of family fun – pumpkin picking, costume parties, pumpkin lattes and leaf peeping. However, for dairy farmers, autumn is also harvest season. They are hard at work ensuring that dairy cows have a store of high quality, nutritious food for the winter months.
A Cow’s Balanced Diet
While you may think of cows grazing in the pasture eating grass, today’s cows receive balanced feed that includes grass, corn and other nutrients. Exclusively pastured cows will have their diets supplemented with corn grain and hay in the winter months.
Like toddlers, cows are picky about their food. Therefore, many cows receive a feed called TMR, or total mix ration. It’s like a salad! TMR contains feeds like silage, forages, grain and supplements. Farmers mix these feeds together to stop cows from eating only certain foods and leaving others uneaten. TMR ensures that each cow is eating a well-balanced, well-rounded meal in every bite.
Some farms also use by-products like citrus pulp or brewer’s yeast to add extra nutrients to the TMR mix. The by-products do not end up in the landfill and are a valuable source of nutrients for the cows.
It’s Harvest Time
Farmers grow forages such as corn, hay and wheat throughout the summer to provide for the cows in the winter when grass isn’t available.
Hay can be any grass, such as rye or alfalfa. Hay is typically cut, dried and stored several times during the summer. First-cutting is the first time the hay is cut, sometimes as early as May. The first-cut hay will have the most nutrients and is the best quality.
Farms harvest corn in the fall. Most farms now harvest the entire corn stalk, cutting the plant into small pieces, which is called silage. The silage is a high-energy forage for dairy cows. The silage is placed into a vertical silo or a horizontal bunker to ferment. Have you ever seen farmers driving large tractors over feed in a bunker? They are packing the silage so that it will ferment correctly. Since the silage is the base of a cow’s TMR mix, harvest season is one of the most important times on a farm.
Rest assured that dairy cows won’t go hungry this winter! With the high quality crops harvested in the fall, they’ll be able to consume a highly nutritious meal as often as they want and continue producing high quality milk for us.