Dairy Farming in Wisconsin: Part 1 - Feeding a Herd of Milk Cows
My Sister's Dairy Farm
Feeding Dairy Cattle
For the uneducated reader, it is hard to imagine the variety and amount of feed which a dairy cow must consume to be a good milk producer. In this regard, a three-week experience of working on a small dairy farm in Wisconsin was a mind-opening ordeal. Disregard your pre-conceived notion of cows only grazing on pasture grass during the spring and summer, and feeding on only hay in the fall and winter. Cows must also feed on ground grain, protein, corn silage, and costly supplements to produce a lot of milk. In this article, I relate my daily experience of feeding dairy cattle on my sister's farm in America's Dairyland.
My Sister's Farm on Dutch Road
My sister and brother-in-law operate a 140-acre farm in northeastern Wisconsin near the city of Manitowoc about 40 miles southeast of Green Bay. The barn has stanchions for 40-45 milk cows and pens for about 10 calves. There is also a separately attached shed for 10-15 heifers. Silage and haylage are stored in one of the four silos. Grain and protein are stored in granaries, and the milk produced is kept in a large bulk tank in the milk house until it is transported to a processing dairy every other day. There are additional machine sheds for the tractors and farm equipment used to plant and harvest crops.
Sis's Farm on Dutch Road
Feed Needed For Dairy Cattle
If a dairy cow is to maintain its weight and produce a lot of milk for the farmer, it must consume forage in the form of hay and haylage, and corn products in the form of corn silage and ground seed corn mixed with other grains like oats and added molasses. The animal must also get additional protein in the form of soybean meal or equivalent supplements, fat from the oil in cottonseeds, calcium and phosphorous minerals, and salt. The farmer grows as much feed as possible and purchases the rest at astronomical cost.
What Dairy Cows Eat
Feed Which Farmers Grow
My sister and brother-in-law, like a lot of other farmers, try to grow as much corn and alfalfa as possible. Corn is planted after the last frost towards the end of May. Different varieties of seed corn will usually mature within 90-120 days. Around the first part of September when the corn ears are soft and edible, my brother-in-law will take his corn chopper and hitch it behind a big tractor. In the back of the chopper will be a big chopper wagon to collect the corn as it is chopped. He will then take this equipment into the cornfield and chop loads of corn silage which will be blown up into some of the four silos on the farm. After the silage starts to ferment in a few weeks, it is fed to the cattle as a tasty treat. Any corn which remains in the fields after the silos are filled is harvested when dented and hard as seed corn. This seed corn is ground into grain for the milk cows.
Alfalfa is another important crop grown. It is from this plant that forages are obtained. When the alfalfa starts to blossom, the farmer will pull a chopper box hooked behind a chopper and cut off and chop into small pieces the blooming plants. Alfalfa which is cut and then allowed to dry in the fields will later be baled into hay.
My brother-in-law grows some soybeans which are used as a source of protein for cattle. They are usually harvested in October in Wisconsin.
Oats are grown as a source of grain and usually ground with corn into a powdery grain mixture which cattle enjoy eating.
Cutting Hay on My Sister's Farm in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin
Corn Chopper and Corn Silage Wagon
Dairy Cattle Feeds
Wagon Filled with Haylage
Feed Which Farmers Can Only Buy
Calcium and phosphorus minerals usually make up one percent of the grain mix. My sister purchases separate bags of minerals and feed them on top of the cows' protein.
Twice a day my sister feeds her cattle cottonseeds so that they will get enough fat, protein, and fiber in their diet.
One-half to one percent of a grain mix must be salt. My sister also feeds it separately.
Primary Feed Which Farmers Regularly Buy
1. Corn Silage and Hay
Many farmers can not grow enough corn and alfalfa due to drought or lack of land. If this is the case, they must purchase corn silage and hay before cows start going out to pasture at the end of May. Hay is important to a cow's diet, and most dairy cattle usually consume three percent of their body weight or around 30 pounds of forage per day.
2. Grain And Protein
Iowa State University researchers recommend that farmers feed one pound of grain for every four pounds or half-gallon of milk a cow produces. For a cow that produces 60 pounds of milk each day, it must be fed 15 pounds of grain spread out over three times a day. The researchers also recommend feeding soybean meal or an equivalent supplement as a source of protein. This protein stimulates feed intake and permits efficient use of mobilized body tissue for milk production.
Loading Haylage Onto a Cart and Feeding It
Process of Feeding Dairy Cattle
Dairy cattle are fed three times a day. The first feeding is usually at 6:00 A.M., a noon feeding, and then an evening feeding at around 6:00 P.M. Each feeding of milk cows, heifers, and calves usually takes one to one and one-half hours. I participated in many feedings during the week with my sister. The daily routine went as follows:
1. Loading of Haylage Into Carts and Self-unloading Feeding
During this process of the feeding, haylage is automatically unloaded from a silo and blown down into self-unloading carts. The battery equipped carts are then navigated through the mangers in front of the cows where the feed is automatically unloaded. Three cartloads of haylage are required for all of the milk cows, heifers, and calves each feeding.
2. Loading of Corn Silage Into Carts and Self-unloading Feeding
During this process of the feeding, corn silage is also automatically unloaded from a silo and blown down into self-unloading carts. The battery equipped carts are then navigated through the mangers in front of the cows where the feed is automatically unloaded. Three cartloads of corn silage are needed for all of the livestock.
3. Loading of Grain Into Carts and Manual Feeding
The grain from a granary is automatically emptied into a small cart which my sister or brother-in-law push around to manually feed all of the animals
4. Loading of Protein into Carts and Its Manual Feeding
Protein from another granary is loaded and fed to the livestock like the feeding of protein.
5. Feeding of Cottonseed and Mineral
After the protein is fed, a big pail of cottonseed and another of the mineral are loaded and manually fed to each milk cow. A large cup of cottonseed and mineral are given to each cow.
6. Feeding of Salt
Although I suspect salt is mixed in with the grain, my sister gives each cow a small handful of salt every evening.
7. Feeding of Hay
The final chore in the evening was the feeding of hay to all animals. Since the cows get to eat forage in the form of haylage three times a day, hay is only fed in the evening. After going up into the haymow, I threw down seven bales each evening. Six of the bales were fed to the milk cows by dividing one bale of hay among eight animals.
If a dairy farmer wants his or her cows to produce very much milk, it is necessary to feed them the same way my sister and brother-in-law do. This is not only good for increased milk production but also beneficial for the health and nutrition of milk cows. The cost of doing this is very expensive. Considering the price which the farmer receives for his milk, only the big corporations engaged in agribusiness can make a profit. When there is a drought or too much rain for the crops, my sister must take out loans to buy feed.
Round Baling of Hay
Feeding Milk Cows
Which is the hardest part of feeding milk cows?
Loading Silage Onto a Cart and a Loaded Silage Cart
My Sister in Front of a Cart of Grain
A Small Cart of Protein
Feeding Cows in my Sister's Barn
Feeding Milk Cows
Hubs Related to My Sister's Dairy Farm
- Dairy Farming in Wisconsin: Part 2 - Milking Cows
Dairy farming is rapidly changing. From my personal experiences of growing up on a dairy farm and recent visit to my sister's farm, I reflect on the problems faced by the small dairy farmer today.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2012 Paul Richard Kuehn