To be sure their animals get a balanced diet that provides for their health and for good production, many livestock farmers hire a nutritionist to help them prepare the best feed possible for their animals. Or if they don't hire a nutritionist, they check closely with one available from the feed company that provides various feeds that they need to buy.
We might ask how many of us would hire a nutritionist to help us decide what to feed our families. Many of us would not feel that such a thing would be necessary. We know how to feed our families.
Yet a recent study done by the U.S. Economic Research Service suggests otherwise.
In every part of the U.S., this study found that we are not eating the balanced and healthful diets recommended in the dietary guidelines for Americans. We are eating fewer fruits and vegetables than recommended and more fats, sugars and calories. This continues to cause problems for us as a nation.
Does this say that livestock farmers do a better job of feeding their animals than we feed ourselves? We might look at it that way, but it really points to the need for better nutrition education in this country. And it also emphasizes the care that livestock farmers, especially dairy, give to their animals.
When the nutritionist pays a monthly visit to the farm, all the feeds must be checked for their nutritional qualities. That includes the various grains as well as hay and silages. Feeds are tested so the nutritionist knows what vitamins and minerals need to be added. Also, the amount of milk produced by the herd is taken into consideration as well the body condition of the animals.
Then the farmer has to be sure the amount fed to the animals is what he told the nutritionist. On many dairy farms, a total mixed ration is fed. This is a combination of a grain mixture with the necessary vitamins and minerals, silage and hay. Weighted amounts of these feeds are put in a mixer wagon where they are mixed together and fed as a total ration.
On smaller dairy farms, the feeds may be feed separately at different times and the cows still get the same ration. Cows can get a little more individual attention on these farms. On the other hand, in the larger herds, someone "walks the herd" a couple of times a day to check for any problems.
If they are going to get top production from their herd, feeding is one of the most important things a dairy or other livestock farmers needs to look at, and most of them do. That is why they hire a nutritionist for a monthly visit.
Feed quality can also vary with the time of year it is harvested. Hay harvested in mid-May is higher in protein than mid to late June. Corn silage with ears well-formed when harvested can be higher in energy than that made earlier.
As you can see, feeding those cows has a lot of science that goes into it. And dairy and other livestock farmers work hard at making sure their animals are well-fed.
Parker is an independent agricultural writer.