How to Feed a Dairy Cow

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Milk cows grazing on pasture can eat grain or hay as well.
Milk cows grazing on pasture can eat grain or hay as well. (Image: cow image by astoria from <a href='http://www.fotolia.com'>Fotolia.com</a>)

The amount and quality of the feed you give your cows play a major part in determining the amount of milk they produce. In many small-scale dairy operations, cows are allowed to graze on pasture during the summer. Grass can be supplemented with grain and hay to increase the cows' size and milk production. Small-scale farms may desire smaller cows to reduce wasted milk.

Provide your dairy cows with adequate forage. Dairy animals eat about three percent of their body weight every day in forage, such as hay or grass. A 1,000-pound animal consumes about 30 pounds of hay every day, according to Oregon State University. Grazing cattle will consume more than 30 pounds of grass per day because of the water content of the grass. They need to consume enough grass to equal 30 pounds of dried grass.

Supplement foraged food with grain or prepared feeds. Iowa State University recommends that you feed one pound of grain for every four pounds, or half gallon, of milk. In many dairy operations, cows are fed grain while they're actually in the stanchion for milking. This increases the cows' willingness to enter the milking parlor.

Monitor your cows' body condition. Increase their feed if they begin to lose condition. Milking cows on pasture tend to lose condition early in the lactation cycle and gain it back later in the cycle, according to Iowa State University. Use higher quantities of grain to make up for poor-quality forage or a short supply of forage to keep milking cows in condition.

Tips & Warnings

  • Decreasing the amount of grain you feed your cows will reduce the amount of milk they produce. This is sometimes necessary if only your family consumes your cows' milk and any extra must be thrown away.

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