Joe Brady, Dragonfly Studios, used with permission

Passing by fields of cows, you’ll notice some resting, but most will be grazing. Many of us think of cows chewing their fresh grass or cud when imagining their diet, but there’s more to a cow’s diet than what they find while mowing a field.

Dairy farmers follow sustainable farming practices for the environment and for the health of their cows. They look for how to reduce waste while benefitting their cows. One way dairy farmers adapt their traditional farming practices into sustainable farming practices is through what their cows eat.

Actually, what cows eat is a big part of dairy farming. Remember, dairy cows weigh at or above 1,000lbs depending on their breed, so cows can eat a lot—up to 100lbs a day. To provide cows their nutritional requirements, dairy farmers feed cows living in barns a mix of feed they call Total Mixed Ration, or TMR. Below is what a dairy cow’s TMR may include.

Most of a dairy cow’s diet is comprised of plants. This part of the diet consists largely of corn and its leaves and/or chopped alfalfa and its hay.

In addition to plants, cows also enjoy grain. While cows can receive grain grown specifically for their meals, cows also consume Distillers grain and Brewers grain. Distillers grain is a byproduct of ethanol production. Brewers grain, meanwhile, is a byproduct of brewing beer from rye, oats, wheat or barley.

The surprising part of a cow’s diet is the part of food that humans would throw away: leftover soybeans and canola used in producing cooking oil, almond hulls, cotton byproducts like leftover cottonseed and even citrus pulp from juice. Cows can consume what would otherwise become waste and put those nutrients to good use. How?

These products, which were once thrown away, are good for cows. With their four-chambered stomachs, cows can breakdown products humans cannot and use the energy and nutrients in these products that would otherwise go to waste. Wow!

Source: The Dairy Alliance

Meet the Farmer and Learn More about Dairy Farms

Tour the Bellvale Farms Dairy

The Bellvale Farms Dairy Barn is the first “Dairy of Distinction” in Orange County, NY. Tours are available at 12:30PM Sundays from June through October. For more info or to make a reservation, call 845-988-5414. The Bellvale Farms Dairy Farm is located at 75 Bellvale Lakes Road, Warwick, NY, one mile from The Creamery.

Fun Facts

The average cow produces 70 lbs. of milk. That’s eight gallons per day!

The softened food is called cud, small balls of food. Next, the rumen muscles send the cud back up to the cow’s mouth, where it is re-chewed and swallowed again, this time going to the Omasum section of the stomach in order to squeeze out all of the moisture.

Did you know nearly each family had a cow up until the 1850’s!

  1. Cows are social animals, and they naturally form large herds. And like people, they will make friends and bond to some herd members, while avoiding others
  2. Cows are red-green colorblind. In a bullfight, its the waving of the cape that attracts the bull not the red color
  3. A cow’s heart beats between 60 and 70 beats per minute
  4. Cows can hear lower and higher frequencies better than humans.
  5. An average dairy cow weighs about 1,200 pounds.
  6. A cows normal body temperature is 101.5°F.
  7. The average cow chews at least 50 times per minute.
  8. The typical cow stands up and sits down about 14 times a day.
  9. An average cow has more than 40,000 jaw movements in a day.
  10. Cows actually do not bite grass; instead they curl their tongue around it.
  11. Cows have almost total 360-degree panoramic vision.
  12. Cows have a single stomach, but four different digestive compartments.
  13. Cows are pregnant for 9 months just like people
  14. A dairy cow can produce 125 lbs. of saliva a day
  15. Cows spend 8 hours per day eating, 8 hours chewing her cud (regurgitated, partially digested food), and 8 hours sleeping
  16. You can lead a cow upstairs, but not downstairs. Cows knees can’t bend properly to walk downstairs.
  17. Cows can’t vomit
  18. The average cow drinks 30 to 50 gallons of water each day
  19. The average cow produces 70 lbs. of milk. That’s 8 gallons per day!
  20. Cows only have teeth on the bottom
  21. Cows have a great sense of smell. They can smell something up to 6 miles away
  22. Dairy cows are economic job creating machines! 1 dairy cow creates 4 full time jobs in the local community
  23. A Holstein’s spots are like a fingerprint. No two cows have exactly the same pattern of black and white spots. They are all different
  24. The average cow will eat about 100 lbs. of feed per day

TRUE OR FALSE?

1. Dairy farmers work with their community to help produce the dairy foods we eat and drink.
True. Dairy farmers work closely with a variety of community members to help produce dairy foods, including crop farmers, members of a CO-OP, and even local hardware stores.

2. A cow’s diet consists of grass alone.
False. Dairy farmers work with animal nutritionists to ensure that cows have a balanced diet or ration that provides all the nutrients they need to maintain their health and help them produce nutritious milk. In addition to grass, cows also eat alfalfa and food that humans can’t digest like cottonseed, almond shells and citrus pulp.

3. Farm to table includes locally grown foods.
True. Farm to table involves all the steps involved to get the food from the farm to the table in a sustainable way. This includes understanding where and how your food is grown and many times those foods are locally grown and delivered. Many dairy farms are less than 100 miles from the lunch or dinner table.

4. Dairy farmers track how many times a day their cows chew.
True. Farmers use technology to track how much time a cow chews, eats, sleeps and the amount of milk they produce to ensure the cow is healthy.

5. Part of being a sustainable dairy is recycling water.
True. Dairy farmers manage their water use in variety of ways including using technology to monitor how much water their crops need so they’re using just the right amount.