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What do cows eat?

If you ask our toddler, she claims cows eat Goldfish. If you ask people who haven't been around livestock, they think cows just eat "grass." If you ask a cow what she'd like to eat, she probably ask why you gave a mouse a cookie and a moose a muffin and didn't give her any baked goods. 


Two things: 

(1) Each day, one of the guys at the dairy has the job of mixing rations for different groups of cows. The ration is routinely tweaked by the dairy's nutritionist, who increases or decreases ingredients based on the cows' health, nutritional needs, and production. 

(2) The ration is mixed in a giant mixer that holds tons of feed. Literally. Tons. Think of it like a Kitchen Aid mixer the size of your kitchen, and instead of teaspoons, you're measuring in pounds. Hundreds of pounds, to be exact.

Don't worry. We're not finished debunking all your bovine myths. There's still more!

So, what do cows eat?


When the guys get ready to mix the ration for the day, they are combining several ingredients, none of which, sadly, include Goldfish.

The smallest bowl pictured above contains ground corn. Think high energy, high calorie food, and then take it times ten. Plus, unlike me when I eat sweet corn, it's already ground up, so cows don't have to spend an hour with giant toothpicks picking husks out of their teeth. We're thoughtful like that.

Next up: dried distillers grain. If you want to sound like you know what you're talking about next time you visit a dairy, call it DDG. When grain is used to make ethanol, the leftovers get repurposed into, you guessed it, food for cows!

Then there's mineral mix.  That's pretty self explanatory. Minerals. Vitamins. In a mix. A local feed mill creates that mix since we don't carry enough of each on the farm to make our own.

And in the biggest bowl? Soybean meal. Because everybody has to eat their vegetables and proteins, even 1500 pound cows.


Pop quiz to see if you remember what's what!


 What's featured in the picture above? 

That's right. DDG!


Lest you think that's all that goes into a cow's own personal Chex Mix, there's more!

Soybean hull pellets are in the smallest bowl. Fat and fiber. You name it; they've got it.

The white fluffy stuff in the bottom right? Whole cotton seed. (Pro tip: If you're under the age of 10, a giant pile of cotton seed is great for jumping in. It's also great if you're over 10; people just might look at you funny.) Cotton seed is yet another source of -- you guessed it -- protein, fat, and fiber.

In the third largest bowl, you'll see gluten feed pellets. These are made of corn byproduct (seriously . . . nothing goes to waste!), and while they're not as high in protein, they're still chalk full of fiber.

And in the biggest bowl? Alfalfa. In addition to other nutrients, alfalfa adds calcium and is easily digestible, so cow stomachs don't have to work quite as hard. And when you have four stomachs, you can use a little break now and then. 

Additionally, corn and rye silage get added to the ration. (You can learn more about silage here.) Silage is like a giant energy bar for cows. It provides them with huge amounts of fiber and energy, and those, in turn, boost their milk production.


Lactating cows get a special feed called -- aptly -- lactation mix. It's made of ground corn, cotton seed, DDG, vitamin and mineral mix, soybean hulls, and soybean meal.

When I sit down to meal plan each week, I try to include fruits, veggies, proteins and dairy in each meal. Likewise,  the guys mixing the ration for the cows each day combine different amounts of each of the above commodities to make sure that the cows are not only well fed but also healthily! 

I mean, no girl wants to sit around just eating HoHos and Oatmeal Cream Pies all day. 

Just kidding. 


I do!

But there you have it. No Goldfish, unfortunately, but lots of fiber, protein, fat and energy uniquely mixed and suited for specific groups of cows' needs. 

And now you know . . . the rest of the . . . . um, ration?


  1. I read that as gluten FREE pellets. Ugh. See what this crazy world has done to me!


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