Can you Feed a Jersey Cow only Grass?
I believe we all are trying to do the absolute best we can for our cows and have good intent in our hearts. I never meant to hurt my cow by feeding her grass. But I did.
I am not an expert on the dietary needs of cows. I am not an expert on Jersey cows. I am a Jersey cow enthusiast, owner, and lover. Hopefully, other Jersey cow owners can learn from my mistakes and save their sweet bovines some unnecessary problems. Continue reading to know the truth about the grass-fed-cow craze and how it may be (negatively) affecting some cows.
Grass-fed cows, all the buzz is about grass-fed cows.
Grass-fed cows provide CLA, are low in Omega 6’s, and are high in Omega 3’s.
3 Thoughts on Grassfed Dairy Cows:
- Why do we want to feed our cows only grass?
- Is grain evil?
- Are the health needs of our cows being met by grass alone?
How did we get here, in a world of 100% ‘grass-fed’?
To really understand our beef industry & what has happened, I recommend watching the documentary “Food Inc.” It is great. It is entertaining. It is horrifying. It exposes what is happening with our food production and the dangers.
I think the grass-fed craze may be a response to the feedlot disaster.
I’ll try to give you a (very brief) recap of how cows ended up in feedlots.
Feedlots are small enclosed areas with dirt ground. There is no grass, pasture, hay or anything for the cows to eat except what is provided by people. There the cows are fed corn. Lots of corn. This does 4 things:
- Fattens them up quickly for slaughter.
- Allows more cows to be finished in smaller space (no need for acres and acres of pasture).
- Increases the marbling in the meat.
- Creates consistently tasting beef.
This last point was exactly what a very large hamburger chain wanted. They wanted to find a way to make all their burgers taste the same. From Seattle to Iowa, to Florida. All across the country, all the beef, all the same. No onion grass, no weird weeds, no off flavors.
When the cows are finished on feedlots, the beef tastes the same.
One of the downsides to the feedlot system was the decline in the nutrition in the meat. Feedlots caused the amount of CLA in the meat to plummet, the Omega 6 (bad fats) to skyrocket and the Omega 3 (good fats) to decrease. source
“This (feedlot finishing) paved the way for an epidemic explosion in rates of cancer, weight gain, diabetes, and heart disease. This becomes obvious when comparing causes of death statistics from 1900 to those of today.” -Global Ag Investing
On the extreme, another side of this (feedlot) spectrum we have the purely grass-fed cow. High in CLA the cancer-fighting wonder-fat, low in Omega 6 (bad) fats, high in Omega 3 (good) fats. Yea! Grassfed is great.
In order to get away from feedlots, we went to all grass.
Now – I’m going to rock the boat on a very controversial issue.
Between the extreme world of dirt FEEDLOTs and the world of 100% grass-fed, there is a whole lot of middle ground. I’m going to jump on my soapbox here and say that I believe that by feeding my Jersey cow 2 scoops of (healthy) grain in the morning while I milk her, does not categorize her as a cornfed, unhealthy, dairy animal.
Does that make sense?
If I feed my cows grass 23.75 hours a day but offer them a little grain while I milk her – will it make all the grass-fed goodness disappear? Is she suddenly stripped of her CLA and Omega 3’s?
Here’s the truth. No.
People much smarter than me have determined that feeding small amounts of (healthy) grain to a cow does not suddenly condemn her or her dairy products into unhealthy foods. Nor does a scoop of feed suddenly remove all the CLA and Omega 3’s from her milk.
I want to give you permission to feed your cow some healthy feed. The dairy products or meat from that animal will still be healthy, healthy, healthy. It will still have high amounts of CLA & Omega 3’s. It will still be low in Omega 6’s. It will nourish your family well.
Why am I giving you permission to feed your cow some feed? Because she may need it.
Let me tell you (the sad story) how we found out that our Jersey needed feed.
She went down. Wobbling, shaking, stumbling, couldn’t walk. Someone call the vet! The cow is down!
She was in ketosis. This is where you may want to be on the Atkins diet, but not where you want your cow.
How did we end up with a cow in ketosis?
When we first started battling mastitis, we were advised by a well-meaning friend to greatly limit (eliminate) the amount of feed in our Jersey’s diet. The line of thought was: less grain = less milk production = less mastitis.
Since cows are made to eat grass, and grass-fed cows are the best, this seemed like a positive idea. Wrong. I learned through experience that it can be difficult to have an exclusively grass-fed Jersey cow.
Moving a Jersey to a 100% grass-fed diet is potentially complicated, should be taken slow and if it is not done correctly can be harmful. I’m not saying if you have a grass-fed Jersey cow she is unhealthy. I am saying that you should know a lot about your pasture and the needs of your cow before moving a dairy cow to grass only.
Our cow, Faith, was basically taken off her feed in order to help her recover from her mastitis. She went DOWN with Ketosis because of the lack of carbs in her diet. If you looked at her you would have had NO idea her health was jeopardized. She was not thin. Her coat was shiny and thick. She looked great.
Now that we are on the other side of ketosis I can look back and tell you some warning signs were there. Her breath smelled like acid. Her milk smelled like acid. Her milk had a greenish tint. Her cream would not ‘come’ into butter. It climaxed when she started shaking, wobbling, couldn’t walk, and finally was immobile.
We called the vet and thankfully, the solution was simple: Carbs.
I feel good about giving my Jersey’s a little feed each day.
I know what you may be thinking:
“BUT, Cows have been living on grass for 1000’s of years!”
Yes, I agree with both of these statements. Cows have lived on grass for 1000’s of years; however, I think it may have been different. Free-ranging changes everything.
Let’s say that the cows of the past were roaming the countryside foraging for food. My chickens, when given the opportunity, will eat the correct balance of nutrition.
I think in the past the cows probably had the freedom to graze where they could find what they needed.
I believe this changes the minute we take a free-ranging, grass-eating animal and lock her into a fenced in pasture filled with Tall Fescue grass. Suddenly, the environment is restricted, the grasses are no longer diverse. The world is not her buffet. She can’t necessarily find the correct balance in the grasses available to her, so there is the potential for a nutritional deficiency.
Just like if I fence in my chickens I have to provide the correct balance of nutrition to them, when I fence in my cows I have taken the responsibility to likewise provide them with the correct nutrition.
If you are interested in grass-feeding or moving your cow to a grass-only diet be sure she gets what she needs. So you don’t end up…… with a wobbly cow.
Let me encourage you. If you chose to do so, please, do not feel bad about feeding your cow some healthy feed. It may be just what she needs. 🙂
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