During the winter months we have a lot of mouths to feed on the farm. More than 500 to be exact. That makes dinner a big deal and important part of the farmer hub’s day. We put a lot of time and attention into the feed for our cattle because, just as in humans, proper nutrition is essential to proper growth and development.
Here are a few things you should know about feeding time on the farm:
- We feed the cows once a day, every day. Rain or shine, week day or weekend, hot or cold our animals need fed. This means my husband or his father need to be on the farm every day during the winter months.
- We feed our animals a nutritionally balanced ration that includes proteins, starches and fiber. Many of the ingredients, including hay, corn silage and alfalfa, are grown right on our farm. The other main ingredient, distillers grain, is a by-product of the ethanol process and comes to us from one of the many ethanol plants located in the Midwest. (Ethanol is made from corn so it’s all farm-fresh).
- We measure and weigh our feed to ensure there is enough for everyone. The feed truck has an internal scale and we use that number to determine how much feed we need each day. Cows need about 30 lbs of dry matter (hay is considered dry matter because it doesn’t contain moisture) each day. That number goes up when you feed corn silage, which includes a lot of moisture. We can’t guarantee every cow gets exactly the same amount of feed, but we deliver enough to the feed bunks to allow every cow to get her fill.
- Cows have a pecking order. Dominate cows always get to the bunk first. And if another lady beats them to their spot, they’ll be sure to let that her know she needs to wait her turn. We have some bossy ladies on the farm but bossy ladies make good moms.
- Just like my 3 year old, our cows know how to find the good stuff on their plate. If you watch our cows eat you’ll often find them digging their nose into the ration and flinging out the stuff they don’t want. The hay often sits on the top so moving it aside – or throwing it out of the bunk all together – gives them better access to the stuff they really want – the corn.
- We never force-feed our animals. We provide them a daily meal and 24/7 access to hay, mineral and grass, whenever possible. The cows like the taste of corn and will seek out the grain provided to them each day. We have always provided a grain-based ration during the winter months because it guarantees our mother cows, who are nursing growing calves, have access to a nutritionally-rich, well-balanced diet.