Feeding and Feed Storage
Total Mixed Rations for Cows (Midwest Rations)
- Corn silage
- Alfalfa/grass silage
- Alfalfa hay
- Soybean meal
- Fuzzy whole cottonseed
- Commodity feeds (corn gluten, distillers grains, soybean hulls, citrus pulp, candy bars, etc.)
Typical rations fed to dairy cows in the Midwest often contain corn silage, alfalfa or grass silage, alfalfa hay, ground or high-moisture shelled corn, soybean meal, fuzzy whole cottonseed, and perhaps commodity feeds (corn gluten, distillers grains, soybean hulls, citrus pulp, candy bars, etc.). Proximity to crop processing plants and industries may dictate the availability of commodity feeds in different locales and some regions may have different feedstuffs. For example, short growing seasons may limit use of corn silage in far Northern climates and may be replaced by alfalfa silage in the ration. Cows are usually fed rations that are balanced for their milk production level or stage of lactation, which reflects the differences in energy and protein required for different amounts of milk produced. A cow produces the most milk immediately after the birth of her calf, but production drops off over the next several months. Usually, all of the feedstuffs are blended together in a mixer and fed as a Total Mixed Ration or TMR. Keeping every bite of feed a cow eats as uniform as possible helps to maintain a healthy population of bacteria in the cow's rumen (second stomach). It is the bacteria that digest the forages in the cows ration and allow her to consume and process foods that other animals and humans could not. Blending all feeds is difficult to accomplish in tie stalls, and is obviously not practiced with cows on pasture where cows eat only grass while on pasture and are fed grain at the time of milking.
Feed storage and feeding systems account for a considerable number of buildings and structures on dairy farms. Dry hay may be stored in a hay loft, or second story, in the barn, in separate hay barns or stacked outside and covered with plastic. For many years, the primary storage structure for silage was an upright silo. Concrete stave silos and oxygen limiting silos, of which Harvestore™ is a familiar brand name, were popular storage structures for chopped and ensiled (fermented) corn, alfalfa, and grass. This method of storage was successful and cows readily ate well-fermented crops. However, the physical removal of silage from such storage was relatively slow and increasing herd sizes dictated more labor-efficient storage methods, such as silage bags and bunker silos, and silage stacks. These methods also preserve silage well, provided that the silage is adequately packed to eliminate oxygen that can hinder the fermentation process. Fermentation lowers the pH of the stored feed and preserves its feed value.
Commodity feeds are added to silage or hay to provide a complete and balanced ration. Commodity feeds are usually stored in a commodity barn that has several bays, one for each commodity. Commodity sheds are usually constructed to allow delivery of one semi-trailer of the commodity in each bay. Cows are usually fed at feed bunks in an outside lot, in a drive through feed alley in the barn, or at a drive-by feed alley, for cows housed in open lots.