Cow Care: Nutrition - Washington Dairy

Cow Care: Nutrition

Nature’s Great Recycler’s

Cow nutrition is a vital part of the dairy process. It is this reason that Washington farmers work with certified animal nutrition to develop dietary plans for their herds based on where they are in their life cycle. Heifers, expectant mother cows, and milking cows will all receive different rations of feed to make sure it compliments their lifestyle.

Every day, Washington’s cows eat about 5.4 million pounds of by-products.

A typical Washington cow will eat about 75 to 100 pounds of food and drink about 35 gallons of water each day!  Just like humans, the food she eats and the water she drinks provides her body with the energy and nutrients it needs, especially for producing the highest quality of milk. Ample food of the best quality is therefore essential to producing large quantities of the highest quality milk.

Cows have been called “one of nature’s best recyclers” because of their ability to digest complex fibrous foods, like forage and other by-products, that humans are cannot. In Washington, forage consists of grass or alfalfa silage or hay; as well as whole corn plants. Together, these dry matter components make up about 40% of a cow’s diet. An additional 5% to 15% of the diet consists of corn or barley grain to accelerate fiber digestion. The remaining 45% to 55% of a cow’s diet consists of by-products mostly derived from human food production processes. Common by-products that are fed to cows include (but are not limited to):

Sugar Beet Pulp Cotton seeds Sweet corn residue
Soybean and Canola meals Linseed and sunflower meals Corn distiller’s grain
Almond Hulls Rice Bran and Hulls Culled potatoes and apples

Every day, Washington’s cows eat about 5.4 million pounds of these products — products that would otherwise likely end up in landfills helping to reduce the environmental impacts of human food production.

To learn more about dairy cow nutrition, visit

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