What Do Cows Eat?

by Allison Ryan

We aren’t the only ones eating a carefully balanced diet – dairy cows do too!

Dairy farmers work closely with nutritionists to plan and ration a cow’s diet. So what DO cows eat?

Well, it varies from farm to farm and by the cow’s age.

Baby calves are fed colostrum (a mother’s first milk) within the first 24 hours of when they’re born to ensure they get all of the antibodies, nutrients and minerals needed for a healthy start. For the next 2-3 months, they will drink milk or milk replacer (like baby formula).

jersey calf drinking milk from a bottleAfter 2-3 months, calves are weaned off milk and fed a diet of grain, hay and water. Calves are picky just like most children, so most calf grain is coated in molasses to make it sweeter and taste better.

calves eating grain

Heifers (think teenagers) and cows are fed grain mixed with hay, corn silage (entire corn plant chopped and fermented) and other feeds to create what farmers and nutritionists call a total mixed ration, or TMR.

dairy cows eating
The TMR is made in a big mixer like the one below. The TMR is important because it ensures cows get proper nutrition. Cows, just like kids, have a tendency to sort through their meal and pick out their favorite parts (like grain), so mixing and grinding the feed together ensures they get a properly balanced meal with every bite.

feed mixer

And here’s a fun fact: Cows spend about 6.5 hours a day eating! They consume about 100 pounds of feed and drink about a bathtub full of water (25-50 gallons) of water day.

Dairy cows are great recyclers! They can turn inedible by-products from human food and fiber industries like citrus pulp, cottonseed and brewers grain into wholesome nutritious milk!

Allison Ryan

Allison is the Senior Communication Manager for the American Dairy Association Mideast. Born and raised on her family’s dairy farm, Allison has a deep respect for agriculture. Allison and her husband, a large animal veterinarian, now live in Montezuma, Ohio with their sons Carter and Lane.

1 Comment

  1. Jase Elma Mathew | | Reply

    good service

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