The Cows’ COVID Diet

I’ve seen a lot of posts and memes about various tweaks to people’s diets during the last couple of months. Some are more serious regarding the shift from restaurants to home cooking, and others poke fun at the proximity of the refrigerator to our new home-offices and the stress-eating that I know has happened at times at this house.  We’ve always eaten the majority of our meals at home, so this hasn’t been a huge change, other than some lack of availability.  This week, though, our cows got a (literal) taste of adjustments to their diet, at least in part due to COVID.

We’ve been feeding the milk cows a TMR for many years.  Until last fall, it was fairly complex, including a specially formulated multi-ingredient commercial blend.  Last summer we made a decision to simplify the ration to include only corn and corn silage we raise, alfalfa hay we were purchasing from a neighbor, dried distillers grains (DDGs) and soybean meal.  Now market conditions have led us to add a little complexity.

With supply chain challenges plaguing the dairy industry, our coop has assigned us a base production based on our production in March 2020.  If we exceed that base, the pay price for excess milk will be far below the cost of producing it.  In order to maximize profitability (or realistically, to minimize our losses), we need to increase the fat and protein content of the pounds of milk we’re allowed to produce in order to get the best possible price.  Our components have been running low, and our nutritionist thinks it’s in part due to a large percentage of the ration being corn products. With reduction in oil/petroleum usage due to COVID, ethanol production has slowed, also resulting in an increase in the price of DDGs (which are a byproduct of ethanol, and one of the corn products in the ration).  Lastly, and unrelated to COVID, our alfalfa and corn silage supplies are running low.

Cottonseed Pile
25 tons of Whole Cottonseed in it’s temporary home until we get the shipping container it will occupy cleaned out.

Thursday night, a semi from the Missouri bootheel delivered 25 tons of whole cottonseed, which is something we haven’t fed much of in the past.  We expect this pile to last about 4 months. We’re hoping the cottonseed, which will mostly replace DDGs in the ration, will help us improve the components (fat and protein) in our milk, helping to increase our pay price. While our nutritionist was recalculating the ration, we also asked him to add brome hay (which we have a surplus of) to reduce usage of the other forages that we’re running low on (alfalfa and corn silage).

The new ration. That’s over 6000 lbs of feed a day.

Fortunately, as farmers, we’re accustomed to adjusting our business to varying market conditions, so this isn’t entirely new.  We also have great consultants to help us navigate these kind of things (like our nutritionist), so we don’t have to make these kinds of decisions on our own.  With our nutritionist’s help, the girls shouldn’t really miss a beat either because while the ingredients have changed, the overall nutrition in the ration will still meet their needs and is similar to what they’ve been eating all along.

On the other hand, in the kitchen, I am struggling to decide how to cook the frozen chicken breasts that were substituted for fresh chicken in my grocery pickup order. I know they’re still chicken, but they don’t seem nearly as appetizing…

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