From Field to Food: How Dairy Farmers Grow Feed for Their Cows

Dairy farmers do more than milk cows.

They also grow crops that become feed for their animals. Just like how dairy foods are an important part of our diets, dairy cows need a variety of foods that provide the energy, protein and nutrients they need to make milk.

Some farmers rely on Mother Nature to water their crops. Irrigation helps fill in what nature doesn’t always provide. 

Irrigation can include pivot sprinklers that move or, you guessed it, pivot, across the crops to assure every acre gets the necessary amount of water. Some farmers use recycled water to irrigate their crops.

Once a farmer harvests a crop such as alfalfa, clover or grass, it is baled as dry hay. Hay is stored at the farm and may be used as a staple of the cows’ diet during the year.

Farmers also grow corn, a key part of a cow’s diet and a great source of energy.

When feeding their cows, farmers load hay into a truck that mixes it with other feed and ingredients to form a “total mixed ration” or TMR. The TMR provides cows with a well-rounded and nutritious diet that often has been specially designed by an animal nutritionist.

The total mixed ration is a nutrition-packed meal for dairy cows. Some farmers may even add a touch of molasses (which is a source of calcium, potassium and other nutrients) to sweeten the mix!

Dairy farms have storage areas for the various components of their cows’ diet. This can include ingredients from other industries, such as brewers’ grains, cottonseed hulls and citrus pulp, which all help provide important nutrients for the cows.

Assuring cows have a healthy diet is a priority for all dairy farmers.