Feeding your cow - Basics

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This is part one of our series on how to feed dairy cattle. Cow nutrition is a complicated subject as the right feed will depend on what is locally available and what stage your cow is in.

In this chapter we explain the basics of feeding your cows for maximum profitability.

Getting back to basics

The challenge for dairy farmers is to put together a diet for their cattle, using feeds that are readily available, that supplies all the animals’ nutritional requirements, does not cause any health problems, enables the cow to produce as much milk as possible - and to do all this in the most cost-effective way.

Source: ILRI

For a cow to be healthy it needs to have enough energy, protein, vitamins and minerals. Many dairy farmers use a combination of bulk forages, concentrates and supplementary forages. Here we explain what each of those 3 things are…

What are bulk forages?

Bulk forage (e.g. grass, hay) is the majority of what a dairy cow eats. To produce healthy cows you ideally want to allow them free access to bulk forages throughout the day and night.

Bulk forages range in their quality (see below). The more you feed your cows on low quality forage, the more you will need to supplement their diet with supplementary forages or concentrates.

Source: ILRI

Top Q&A from AFC members

Doba asked a key question about feeding we hear often…

Doba’s Question

What is the best times to feed my cows…?? At the moment I feed then at 8am and 8pm…I wish to be advised

Posted by: Doba R

A top answer we’ve selected comes from Halbe…

Halbe’s Answer

We always fed once a day. preferable in the morning and give them fodder for about 26 hours. Next morning we give remainings to the heifers and give again a fresh load of fodder. So they can eat when they want during the whole day as much as they want, to get a maximum of intake of good fodder

Posted by: Halbe K

Time your supplements wisely…

AFC opinion

For the best milk production, cows should have access to food and water at all times. However, cows can only eat so much so if you are adding supplements to their diet (such as dairy meal) then make sure they get them before they are full on low nutrition forages.

Posted by: AFC

Concentrates & Supplementary forages

It’s also important to understand concentrates. Why? This is how you give the cow extra protein

What are concentrates?

Concentrates are used to give the cow extra protein. The amount of concentrates needed depends on the stage of the cow (e.g. dry/milking). Concentrates are quite expensive and are therefore fed in relatively small amounts in addition to forages.

Dairy meal is commonly used by dairy farmers as a concentrate. However, other farmers prefer to make their own as commercial dairy meal can often be expensive and low quality. The diagram below shows some alternatives to dairy meal.

Source: ILRI

It’s also good for farmers to understand the function of supplementary forages…

What are supplementary forages?

Supplementary forages can be used in two ways: either to compensate for poor quality bulk forages or instead of concentrates. For example three kilograms of fresh calliandra can replace one kilogram of commercial dairy meal.

If you have access to supplementary forages on your land then this can be a good way to save money on things like commercial dairy meal.

Be careful as feeding large amounts of some supplementary forages can cause bloat. Usually supplementary forages should not make up more than 25-30% of a cow’s daily diet.

Source: ILRI

Top Q&A from AFC members

Let’s hear from farmers. Ngugi asked a good question about concentrates…

Ngugi’s Question

Can i do dairy farming without using concentrates and still hit the cow’s maximum???

Posted by: Doba R

A top answer we’ve selected comes from Ann…

Ann’s Answer

Yes concentrates are supplementary. However you cows require a balanced diet and that’s why you give supplements. You need to research which grains you will be lacking from a diet of fodder and give them. Growing alfalfa, sorghum, caliandra, luecenia, sweet potato vines to replaceconcentrates.

Posted by: Ann K

In our opinion supplementary forages are a plus…

AFC opinion

Yes. Supplementary forages can be used instead of concentrates. If you have access to supplementary forages on your land then this can help save a lot of money on concentrates.

Posted by: AFC

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