Most dairy farmers work with nutritionists to create a feed ration (recipe) that is best suited for their cows. This ration is dependent on where the farm is located in Canada and what feed types are most commonly available. High quality feed is important for a cow’s health and milk production.

Dairy farmers and herd nutritionists aim for 50-60% of the diet as forage. Forage is simply plants that are consumed mainly by grazing livestock, like grass or hay.

There are two groups of forages: wet and dry. An example of wet forage is silage, (fermented forage). Commonly, silage on a dairy farm would consist of barley, corn or alfalfa. Dry forages are pasture (fresh forage) or high quality alfalfa hay, alfalfa-grass mix hay, grass hay or straw. Some dairy farmers will feed a mix of both silage and hay, while others might only feed silage or only feed hay, depending on the farm.

The other half of the diet is called the concentrate. The concentrate is comprised of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, and minerals and vitamins.

Primary sources: barley, corn, oats, wheat, molasses, beet pulp, and soyhulls. Most dairy farmers grow their own barley, corn, oats, and wheat and will often process these grains to be fed to the cows. Molasses, beet pulp and soyhulls are purchased from a feed mill. Not all of these carbohydrate sources are used as other sources are needed to complement the forage to meet the nutritional requirements of the cows.

Primary sources: canola meal, distillers grains, soybean meal, and corn gluten meal. 

Primary sources: vegetable oil, tallow, and protected fatty acids.

Minerals and Vitamins
Primary sources: Calcium, Phosphorus, Magnesium, Sodium, Chloride, Potassium, Sulfur, Iron, Zinc, Manganese, Copper, Cobalt, Iodine, Selenium, Vitamin A, D, E and some B-vitamins too. They are essential for the health and productivity of the cows and farmers and nutritionists will make sure all of these nutrients are balanced. Prebiotics and probiotics are also often used to help with digestion and as another way to ensure cows are healthy.

The protein, fat, minerals, vitamins and feed additives are mixed together at a feed mill and brought to the dairy farm to be fed to the dairy cows.

Many of the concentrate ingredients listed are fairly standard, but some dairy farmers that are closer to large centers can also take advantage of by-products from commercial food processors, such as potato waste, fruit and vegetable waste, etc. What processors call waste is actually a by-product for the dairy feed industry. Dairy cows are excellent recyclers and can take these unwanted by-products that have great nutritional value and use them in their diets while reducing the amount of grain cows eat. Great care taken on selecting ingredients that are healthy for dairy cows to remain productive and sustainable.