Is it wrong to give a dairy cow feed with grain? The rage is all about 100% grass-fed dairy, but we’re giving our family milk cow grain and here’s why.
What kind of a self-respecting Cow Mama am I, exhibiting my poor gals before the proverbial world and pointing out all the imperfections in their body conditions?!
Do you think they’ll forgive me because it was for educational purposes that I showed you that Holly is on the skinny side, Candy & Stella are just about all that we could hope for, and that “Big Bertha” has earned her nickname thanks to her prodigious hips?
What impresses me so much about “Big Bertha” is that she looks like that... without the grain bucket! When we homesteaders, newbie dairy farmers, and the like go family milk cow shopping, what we need to understand is that we might just be getting what we paid for!
Holly was 1/3 the price of her counterparts on the dairy cow market. She was a cull cow, we got a great deal, and we needed it. She was bought to be a nurse cow for our calf whose mama died and Holly made a wonderful adoptive mother. I am so appreciative of the role she has played in our homestead story that she will have a home with us until the day she too dies. But we’re going to pay for it.
You see, in order to keep her healthy, yes I said healthy, we’re going to have to give her a grain ration as part of her cow feed.
At times it might be more, at times less, but we’ve accepted the fact that her recent ancestors were most likely selectively bred to have increased milk production. Rumor is she might even have some Holstein blood coursing through her veins.
She’ll still give most of all that milk she was bred to give even if we don’t give her grain. She’ll just take it from herself. And I think that’s what we’re seeing reflected in her body condition.
Holly + 99% Grass + No Grain = 6 gallons of milk each day + Skinny Holly
Holly + 99% Grass + Grain Ration = 6 gallons of milk each day + Fit Holly
When Holly came to us, she did so from an organic dairy farm with a 12 pound-a-day grain ration. Six pounds, twice daily, at milking. When she freshened this year, we decided to see how she would do with that cut in half and then after bringing on Stella & Candy, she’s been getting a lot closer to 3 pounds of grain like her new pasture mates. While that amount has worked for them, it’s not cutting it for Holly so we’re are increasing her ration back to the six pounds. We’ll observe her for a while, and if need be raise it AGAIN!
Like it or not, trendy or not, it’s not fair for us to deprive her of that energy source.
Why We Feed Our Family Milk Cow Grain
Right now “grass-fed” is a major buzz word among those of us trying to eat better for our health and the health of our children. And rightly so.
The attention given to “grass-fed” cattle is in response to cows being fed diets they were never intended by the Creator to eat: All grain, gummy worms, chicken manure, dead cows. These are things that, left to themselves, cattle would never choose to eat!
There has been enough public demand that producers, such as Organic Valley who now has a “Grassmilk” line, are listening. Supporters of the wonderful Weston A. Price Foundation are often the most vocal opponents to grain in the diets of ruminants (indiscriminate of beef or dairy genetics). What you’re actually seeing in all this outcry is the pendulum swinging to the opposite extreme and completely disregarding the very definition of grain… which are the seeds of grass. Yes, corn is a grass!
I think many would be quite surprised to find that on Sally Fallon Morell’s farm she feeds grain to her dairy cattle.
Sally Fallon Morell now has a dairy farm in Maryland where she produces cheese, and she has this to say about giving grain to dairy cows: “IIn all of our suggestions on dairy farming, we have allowed some grain to be given to dairy cows–up to 0.5% of body weight per day (we are giving about 0.2% of body weight, thus the cows are getting about two pounds of grain during milking). There are two reasons for this. First is that in a natural setting, ruminants would be getting some grain in the seed heads of mature grasses. And second, dairy cows are more stressed than cows in the wild, producing more milk than a natural cow would–even low-production cows like our own. If we did not give the grain, the cows would be very very thin. By soaking in vinegar water, we make the grains very digestible for the cows.The vast majority of raw milk producers are giving some grain to their cows. Those who don’t are obliged to charge $12-13 per gallon in order for the farm to be economically viable.” Her cows are on pasture, but at milking time they’re given a mixture of field peas, corn, and wheat, which is soaked overnight in vinegar water. Sally said there is such a difference in the milk yield just from them getting this small snack of grain during their milking. –Real Milk FAQ page
But even if she didn’t, the fact of the matter is that we’re not answerable to the Weston A. Price Foundation supporters or any other person or organization, or even our customers (much as we love them and are thankful for their support) for how we raise our cattle.
We’re answerable to God.
God is the foremost farming “expert.” He is the source of all wisdom. He not only designed and created everything, but He planted the first garden. It makes sense that the best farming is going to be based on God’s wisdom, not man’s. The infinite knowledge and understanding that backs up Gods designs and models makes the knowledge of an agricultural scientist seem insignificant.
Thankfully for us, God has revealed His wisdom to His people through His Word and Creation. These are the sources we need to look to when we are trying to learn how to farm.
The Bible is the farmer’s sufficient guide to having a proper understanding about what God wants him to do. It’s not a step-by-step “how to” manual but it gives a framework that equips us to know how to answer every question. – Born Again Dirt: Farming to the Glory of God
So then, “What saith the scripture?”
A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast: but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel. Proverbs 12:10
And when I read His word and see how cattle are cared for, I see cows that are primarily, overwhelmingly fed grass…
•All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field; Psalm 8:7
•In that day shall thy cattle feed in large pastures. Isaiah 30:23
•And I will send grass in thy fields for thy cattle, Deuteronomy 11:5
•He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, Psalm 104:14
•They shall make thee to eat grass as oxen, Daniel 4:32
•And the lion shall eat straw (fodder) like the ox. Isaiah 11:7
•Thus they changed their glory into the similitude of an ox that eateth grass. Psalm 106:20
•Or loweth the ox over his fodder? Job 6:5
Wonderful. We see cattle eating grass. Where’s the discrepancy??
•Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn. Deuteronomy 25:4
•For it is written in the law of Moses, Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen? 1 Corinthians 9:9
Sure, while the overwhelming majority of verses in the Bible show us a pastoral image of cows eating grass, is that an ox I’m seeing snacking on some corn while it’s working? Sure is.
So not only do we see a cow here instinctively eating something it enjoys and was created to be able to eat (or it wouldn’t) but what you don’t see is God’s prohibition on our allowing a milk cow to eat what their natural desires cause them to eat.
And while I realize that these verses aren’t actually talking about *how* to treat cattle, God is using a parable to help us to understand a much larger truth, as farmers so far removed from proper animal husbandry techniques we can still turn it around backwards to learn how to care for His creation.
To how great a degree a good man will be merciful; he has not only a compassion for the human nature under its greatest abasements, but he regards even the life of his beast, not only because it is his servant, but because it is God’s creature, and in conformity to Providence, which preserves man and beast. The beasts that are under our care must be provided for, must have convenient food and rest, must in no case be abused or tyrannised over. – Matthew Henry
This is why we, as Christian stewards of our cattle, ought to be attentive to their condition while we take a long term vision at selecting cows that will do better on grass and improving our pasture.
We should NOT be shopping at the sale barn.
We should NOT be getting whatever cheap deal comes our way! If grass-only is our goal, then we need to seek out the genetics to support our ideals! When “Big Bertha’s” first heifer goes up for sale, you’ll see me fist fighting at the front of the line like a WalMart shopper on Black Friday to get dibs on her!
As a breeder of grass finished livestock we know that it takes at least three cattle generations, which is about 10 years, to make even the smallest of significant improvements in a cow herd from a grain based type cow into a cow that will perform well on grass or forages only. This is if our new grass genetic bull is all he is supposed to be. Selecting for grass based genetics will be a new part of the farmers education that is seldom seen even by today’s most experienced livestock producers. And because grass finishing or milking cows only on grass is so new to the US, that locating quality grass genetics to begin with almost requires magic. However, once we get on the right track genetically we begin a whole new livestock enterprise not seen here by most standards for well over 60 years or more. This type of cow requires absolutely nothing in the form of inputs. Once the entire system of forages, genetics, and management to put it altogether arrive, our primary costs of production are the initial purchases of livestock and land. That’s it. For the livestock producer this is monumental. And for the consumer, its meat that can build health instead of deteriorate life and the earth we all live in. –Holistic Systems For Stockmen
We should NOT expect to bring home our new family cow and turn them out onto our small acreages with limited to no access to the best grass (our first cow literally ate off our lawn) and expect them to thrive… and give milk while we neglect making pasture improvements such as planting seed or clipping weeds whether with sheep, scythe, or tractor, and expect her to do that without any help from grain!
I don’t disagree that we should be feeding less grain. I want to feed the least amount of grain that I possibly can. But please understand that if the animal needs it, it’s not a sin to feed it, which is what some people would have you believe. There’s nothing inherently evil about meeting the nutrient requirements of the animal under your care and at the end of the day, you’re responsible for the care of that animal and you’re going to answer for whether or not you’ve been able to take care of that animal to the best of your ability. – Scott Terry, organic dairy farmer & host of Christian Farm & Homestead Radio, July 25th episode (An excellent, balanced overview of the topic from a Christian agrarian position from an experienced and knowledgable source.)
We should NOT be ungracious and condemn or guilt trip our fellow homesteaders and dairy farmers who supplement with grain for considering the health and well-being of their animals before and above a trendy principle no matter how worthy the grass-only standard might be.
Besides. Have YOU ever tried to herd a cow that isn’t bucket trained? It ain’t fun! Girl doesn’t go where she doesn’t want to go until she’s good and ready to!