Picky eaters: Ensuring the nutritional balance and palatability of the dairy cow diet

Picky eaters: Ensuring the nutritional balance and palatability of the dairy cow diet

Gene Goenner is a technical dairy expert with Alltech. Below is an edited transcript of his recorded comments on optimizing feedstuffs. 


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I want to talk to you a little bit today about feedstuffs: in particular, different ingredients and total mixed rations. We know that a herd’s diet is made up of multiple ingredients. For example, when we have a grain mix, a nutritionist is going to add up to 30 different ingredients that will mix together into a balanced diet for the animal.

A cow at a high production level is going to have the ability to consume approximately 50–60 pounds of the feedstuff a day. She has an outstanding ability for taste and smell, much better than we as humans have, so we are balancing this diet with all of these different ingredients to create a diet that is not only nutritionally balanced, but also palatable.

Maximize performance

When nutritionists look at a diet, we try to figure out the cow’s production level. This includes her milking performance, her reproduction performance and maximizing her overall health. Making a high-quality, balanced diet for a healthy animal will help her to perform, do well on a farm and be profitable for the producer.


One of the problems we have when feeding a ration is that we include feed ingredients that animals prefer, and they will sort through to find individual ingredients. So, what we do to avoid that is running the feedstuff through a mixer to make what we call a TMR (total mixed ration), in which we combine all these ingredients together into one diet. We do that to create uniformity and to keep these cows consuming their diet consistently. Cows are great at finding the feedstuff that is more palatable to them and will look for that “goodie” or that “candy” in their diet.

It is crucially important to have the feedstuff in the TMR mixed effectively to maintain performance levels at high volumes and uphold good health.

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