Are Australian dairy cows completely grass fed?
In Australia, most cows have a diet that is made up of grass, which is either grazed or supplied as hay or silage, with a small amount of grain and mineral supplements to fill any nutritional gaps. On a small number of farms (approximately 2%), the cows do not graze, and are instead supplied a nutritionally balanced mix of preserved grass and crops, grains and other suitable feeds.
Last updated 08/08/2019
Generally, grass is considered the most cost effective feed source for cows. The vast majority of Australian dairies are in coastal regions, taking advantage of the higher rainfall these areas experience and as a consequence, greater grass production.
However, at certain times of the year, grass grows too fast for the cows to eat it or stops growing so there isn't enough. Add to this unseasonal years where it rains too much or gets too hot, and grass production becomes unpredictable. This can make providing a consistent diet, which is important for cow health, a challenge.
Farmers are good at preserving grass when it's in overabundance by making silage (preserved pasture) and hay (dried pasture) which allows it to be fed back to cows at a later time. They also make use of other feed sources such as grains and legumes to provide additional nutrition to cows when it is not available from grass. Overall, about 60-65% of a cow's diet comes from fresh grazed grass averaged out over a year.
Farmers often work with nutritionists to ensure their cows receive a balanced, healthy diet to meet their needs throughout the year.
Nearly all farms in Australia provide pasture to their cattle for most of the year. Only around 2% of farms feed a Total Mixed Ration, where farmers mix silage, grain and other feeds and provide it to the cows in a trough for their whole diet. This provides a nutritionally balanced diet to the cows, often in a climatically controlled environment.
For more information on feeding dairy cows: https://www.dairyaustralia.com.au/farm/feedbase-and-animal-nutrition/nutrition
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