Dairy farmers work with nutritionists who create healthy, balanced diets that are specific to the cows’ needs – based on their age, whether they’re milking, whether they’ll soon have a calf, and many other factors. Some dairy cows eat as much as 100 pounds of food per day. The ingredients often include human food byproducts, grain, a mixture of grass hay, alfalfa hay, as well as corn and grass silage that is grown on the farm.
Dairy cows are ruminants, with four distinct compartments in their stomachs to digest food. That means they can eat and unlock the energy and nutrients in foods we can’t eat. Up to 75% of a cow’s diet is not consumable by humans. Food companies, retailers and restaurants can partner with dairy farms to recycle food scraps that are inedible to humans, avoiding landfills or incineration. Byproducts like citrus pulp, almond hulls or spent grains from breweries can all be part of a dairy cow’s diet. Dairy cows really are the ultimate recyclers!
Many dairy cows are housed in free stall barns where they have constant access to fresh food and water. On average, dairy cows spend about 6 hours per day eating and another 8 hours per day chewing their cud (small balls of softened food), which is a sign of their health. Many dairy cows wear activity trackers around their neck or on their ankle that track how often they are sleeping, walking around, eating and chewing their cud. (Really like a Fitbit for cows!) This allows dairy farmers to give their cows individual attention to ensure they are healthy.
On most dairy farms, cows are milked two to three times a day. It’s important that they eat high quality food to fuel their bodies to produce high quality milk.