Cows Can Be Picky Too

It was a blustery morning in late fall when I went to visit Scott and Trevor Wayment on their farm just outside of Ogden, UT. The rain had just stopped and the few yellow leaves that were left on the trees hung glistening against a textured grey sky. As we talked and toured the farm, I noticed a cow “nosing” through her feed and asked Scott about it, “Oh, that one’s sorting,” he said.

“Sorting?” I asked, not too sure what he meant. Scott went on to describe that cows prefer some elements of their feed more than others and certain cows can be particularly picky. (Immediately I had images of my sister pushing food around on her plate –  attempting to make the peas disappear.) As a dietitian, I found this intriguing so Scott and his son Trevor went on to talk with me and explain a bit more about cow nutrition.

Cows are fed a TMR (Total Mixed Ration), which is a blend of various feed ingredients, nutrients, and minerals that is tailor-formulated for Scott and Trevor’s cows by a cow nutritionist. The ration varies based on seasonal availability of certain crops but can include alfalfa hay, corn silage, rolled corn, cottonseed, and whey. Just like people have regional cuisines, there are geographical influences in cow-cuisine based on availability of certain crops. (Among others, beet pulp, fruit, and soybean meal are common feed ingredients in other parts of the country). The ration typically consists of about 18% protein and 6% fat with the remainder coming from silage, hay, and vitamins/minerals to allow the cows to deliver high quality, nutritious milk. Most humans aren’t this dialed into their nutrition, and that is why John Dent, a dairy farmer just up the road in the Cache Valley refers to his cows as athletes. The nutritionist visits the Wayment’s farm monthly to check up on the herd and make adjustments to the TMR, but is available for consultation anytime Scott and/or Trevor notice something amiss.

The TMR is thoroughly mixed to discourage sorting, but sometimes picky cows will nose their way to their favorite ingredients. If a cow sorts through her food consistently, it may disrupt the balance of nutrients and increase the acidity in her stomach which can cause problems. Farmers are always on the look out for something amiss – changes in manure, a drop in milk quantity, change in milk quality, or change in activity level, and sometimes a simple food adjustment is just what the cow needs to balance acidity and return her to normal.

So being a picky eater is not just a human trait, cows know what they like and how to sort through the “peas” to find the good stuff.

For more information about what cows eat, check out this blog post by The Dairy Mom.

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