Friday, January 20, 2017

Dairy Diets and Skittles Candy

The great Skittles spill in Wisconsin has raised an awful uproar about giving candy, bread, and cookies to cattle. I believe a little light needs to be trained upon the subject.

Modern dairy cows have been bred to be able to produce prodigious amounts of milk when cared for properly....and proper care is what farming is all about. This means that fewer acres, less water, less feed, and hopefully from the farmer's point of view, less money, go into making more milk from essentially better cows than we used to have.

Here is a picture of a Holstein in the '30s.

Here is a modern cow

Now I know most folks probably didn't do dairy judging in 4-H or raise cows to show or milk, but even an untrained eye can surely detect the difference between these two. Although cow A was a good cow in her day, today she would not be able to hold a place in pretty much any milking string. 

Check out cow B though.... just look at those strong, powerful feet and legs, that wide chest, straight topline, and those veins. They aren't called milk veins for nothing. And just look at that udder....high, and tight, and well connected to the important factor in a long life as a milk cow.

Of course cow B is a national show champion, but you can still get the idea that cows have changed since the days of wooden stanchions and shoveling out behind them twice a day.

The feed has changed as much as the cow. Nowadays, feeding cows is a complicated science. 

When farmers add such things as candy, cookies, and cake to cow rations they do so under the guidance of trained nutritionists, who balance  individual ingredients, such as sugars, starches, and proteins, to offer the most possible benefit to the animal, while costing as little as is reasonable.

Cows have different needs than people do, and utterly different digestive systems. When we were feeding cows one of the mantras that our nutritionists and veterinarians and speakers at meetings where we went to learn how to better feed cows, was, you are not feeding cows, you are feeding bacteria....

The bacteria in the cow's rumen help the cow to break down the ingredients of their feed in different ways than we break down our own groceries. Thus a cow can eat grass and make use of it for meat and milk where we would just get a belly ache.

And yes, the sugar in candy can help a cow get the right nutrients in the right balance to feel and act her best. Here is an article about the practice.

We worked with some amazing nutritionists, both from the companies where we purchased cow grains and from independent consultants, as well as with a group of bovine veterinarians who really knew their stuff. I personally attended many meetings and classes on cow management in all its aspects, from keeping cows comfortable to feeding them the best way we could. 

Beet pulp pellets, another byproduct fed to cattle
Soaking to feed the show calves bitd

We at one time even fed a grain product that contained chocolate left over from production for people. The barn smelled sure smelled good then! We also fed a broad range of other products you might not have found growing in a hay field, such as citrus pulp (another good scent in the stable) cottonseed, and other byproducts of food production. Pat, Jim, Kris, and a number of other trained professionals helped us use these ingredients correctly. Cornell Cooperative Extension put on many programs to teach us the craft of feeding cows, as did the feed companies and veterinarians we worked with.

So you see, reviling farmers who use ingredients, such as Skittles, for doing so is pretty misguided.

Here are some sample dairy rations so you can get an idea of just how carefully the modern dairy cow is fed. You don't have to read them all, just take a peek to see what's involved.

First, feeding TMR 

One set of ration guidelines.

Here are some comparisons on including candy in rations.

We waste a lot of food here in this prosperous world we get to enjoy. Why not spare some of that leftover stuff from the landfill and feed it to animals that can convert into nutritious food rather than throwing it away? Isn't that what sustainability is all about?


Terry and Linda said...

BRAVO! Well done!

Post this to the world please!


threecollie said...

Thanks, Linda, wish I knew how to get it out more.

Cathy said...

Vert interesting post!
" . .you are not feeding cows, you are feeding bacteria...."

threecollie said...

Cathy, I get so frustrated by the armchair nutritionists who comment on stories like the Skittles one. Feeding cows is so exacting; there is so much science in caring for the modern dairy cow for good milk production. People think that you throw them a chunk of hay and walk away, but it simply isn't so. And yet, it takes so much information to explain that it is hard to convey in a soundbite. Not having come from a farm, I had the same ideas when I got my first job milking cows, but I sure learned differently fast. My boss paid for classes for me, not on nutrition, as that was not my job, but on fertility issues. I had to understand the workings of individual hormones, such as gnrh, and learn so much science, just to be a sort of assistant herdsman and head milker on the large dairy where I worked. After leaving there to marry my own farmer I went to many meetings and classes, all the years that we farmed, as did the boss, always seeking to learn how to do a better job. People don't do we explain? Oh, well, it was a great life, and we still have Bama and Moon....