Cows require between 2% and 3% of their bodyweight in food per day. However, making a proper feeding plan requires more than just knowing what and when to feed the cow. Plans must be accurate because it guides you and other caretakers on your farm in raising a healthy cow with optimum returns.
But how exactly do you make a working feeding plan? And what do you need to execute it?
Table of Contents
Determine What Your Cow Actually Eats
The first step in making a feeding plan for your first family cow is to determine what she eats. The outright answer is that the cow eats grass, but there is much more beyond that simplicity.
One way to know what your cow eats is to ask the farmer you are buying her from what the cow has been eating on their farm.
The following feeds are the most common for cows, depending on where you buy the cow and how she has been raised.
- Pasture grass (or green grass)
- Other types of grass such as ryegrass, brachiaria, Napier, Bermuda, Baha, Foxtail Grass, Reed Canary, and Timothy Grass.
- Hay (purchased or self-produced).
- Salt and mineral supplements (these must be explicitly made for ruminants).
- Grains such as oats, wheat, sorghum, corn, and barley.
- Forage legumes such as lucerne (alfalfa), clover, lentils, soybean, and cowpea. (Legume pastures or plants are a high source of protein for cows).
- Other cut fodder like corn stalks or stover.
- Silage (fodder preserved by fermentation).
- Winter feed crops, such as winter squash, mangles, cabbage, and turnips.
- Free-choice water.
- Bloat block (if necessary, for protecting the family cow from frothy bloat caused by eating legumes, wheat, or young grass pastures right from a ration of hay in winter).
How To Make a Feeding Plan
Now that you know what the family cow you purchased has been eating or needs to eat to continue producing enough fresh milk and maintain good health, it’s time to consider other aspects of the feeding plan.
Your feeding plan must account for the following aspects:
- The correct type of cow feed and amounts
- Feeding schedule (feeding time plan and number of times to feed per day).
- Feeding place or point
- Feeding method
Choose The Correct Type Of Feed And Amounts
Keeping a family cow requires knowing more than just what to feed her. Ensure the food you offer her is the right type and in the correct amount.
The type and amount of feed will depend on several factors like the cow’s age, her activity levels, breed, health, stage in life, and purpose.
A dairy cow will consume more feed than a beef breed because she has to maintain milk production at optimum levels. A cow in lactation or one that is pregnant will also require more feed to continue producing enough raw milk or maintain a healthy pregnancy.
Different cow breeds will eat different amounts of feed. For example, Holsteins are heavy eaters than Jersey cows because they have bigger bodies and are heavy milkers.
How much feed should you offer your cow? You can consider the following breakdown of feed types and quantities:
|Grass||Feed 2.5 to 3% of the cow’s body weight in grass per day. For the average dairy cow, this means eating 30-40 pounds of grass each day.|
|Grain||Feed 2-2.5% of the cow’s body weight in dry grains per day to provide energy and proteins. The grain intake should be about 16% when calculated as a percentage of the total daily ration. Alternatively, you can provide 1 pound of dry grain for every 3 pounds of milk the cow produces.|
|Hay||Feed 30-40 pounds of high-quality hay per day. (About 2 to 3 pounds of hay for every 100 pounds of the cow’s body weight). Hay is ideal in winter when grass pastures are unavailable.|
Proteins from legume pastures: Only enough to supplement the proteins from grains and commercial protein supplements.
|Proteins from Legume Pastures||Only enough to supplement the proteins from grains and commercial protein supplements.|
|Protein Supplements||One example is cotton seedcake: Only enough to supplement the proteins from grains|
|Salt||Feed 0.005 to 0.01% of the cow’s body weight in loose salt per day. A salt block is also okay as the cow will only lick as much as she needs daily.|
|Silage||Feed 10-66 pounds of corn silage or Napier grass silage, depending on the cow’s milk production rate and the availability and quality of the silage.|
|Water||Provide plenty of clean water all the time.|
You can feed your family cow 2-3 times a day for each type of feed, ranging from grains, cut fodder, silage, salt, and concentrate feeds. Cows on pasture will eat several times within the day until they have had enough.
Another crucial aspect to consider is maintaining regular feeding times. For example, if you provide grains twice a day at 8 in the morning and 4 in the evening, stick to these feeding times.
- Feed grains 2-3 times a day.
- Offer forage 2-3 times daily, about 1 or 1.5 hours before grains.
- Feed protein supplements alongside or soon after grains.
- Always avail fresh feed after each milking.
Feeding Place or Point
The size and layout of your family farm will determine where you feed your cow from. If your cow is grass-fed on paddocked pastures, you’ll be providing water, grains, salt, and other feeds out on the paddocks. These feeds will be offered in the barn for a zero-grazed cow.
It’s crucial to offer your cow her feeds from a fixed point or place all the time, if possible. This helps her adapt faster to a fixed routine.
You can choose from three feeding methods:
In time-restricted feeding, you feed your cow several times a day, preferably at specific times, for a specific duration. The problem with this method is that you might offer the cow less than enough feed or cause her to overeat. Moreover, any feed left over will likely go to waste because the cow might not be comfortable eating it later.
In food-restricted feeding, you offer food to your cow based on her body condition to promote optimum growth, development, and production. This offers you more control. For example, you’ll provide more proteins if she is in lactation.
The free-choice feeding method is ideal when offering cows water and salt because they can’t take more than their bodies require.
The best way to feed your cow is to strike a balance between these three methods. If you bring other cows to the farm, offering free-choice forage could cause the animals to overfeed because of competition.
Here’s the hardware you’ll need to execute the feeding plan for your family milk cow:
- Water trough/tank/tab. It’s best to have an automatic filling system for the tank in summer when your cow needs plenty of fresh water.
- Feeders/feeding trough/containers/manger. Ensure you have enough hay feeders, grain feeders, and loose salt feeders.
- Storage space for grains, hay, and concentrate feeds.
- Rodent control mechanisms to keep rodents off the feeds in your farm store.
- Weed control mechanisms to keep poisonous weeds such as hemlock, bracken fern, nightshade, and lupine off your pasture paddocks.
- Halter and lead rope for guiding the cow to food and water.
- Tethering cord if the cow needs to be tethered.
- Wash rags/cloths/disposable towels for cleaning feeders and mangers.
- Adequate fencing (with gates) for paddocks.
- Silage bags for holding corn silage or Napier grass silage.
Are there other aspects to consider about the feeding plan for your family cow? Be sure to consider the following:
- Always have enough fodder ready before the cow comes home. 1-2 acres will be enough for one cow, but it would be better to have 2-5 acres for growing grass and other fodder.
- Always re-examine your feeding plan regularly and adjust it according to your cow’s health, age, life stages, feeding behaviors, and production rate.
- Gather hay while the sun shines. Buy or harvest enough hay in the warmer seasons for use in winter when green pastures are scarce.
- Excess grains are not safe for the cow. She may develop complications like bloat, which could lead to death.
- Silage preserves the quality of fodder (nutrients) better than plainly stored fodder.