The Life of a Dairy Nutritionist
This article was originally posted on Chocolate Slopes.
If you’ve been reading Chocolate Slopes for awhile, you likely know how passionate I am about my home state of Michigan and the vast farming and agriculture that happens in my state. You can read about my first farm experience here, which was quite the eye opener. Since then I’ve visited several more dairy and beef farms along with my first produce farm tour. These opportunities have not only opened my eyes to an entirely different world (yes, I’m a city girl), but hopefully they have shed some light on the many misconceptions the general public has on farming, treatment of animals, antibiotic-use and many more hot topics.
In honor of dairy month, I was offered the chance to interview a dairy nutritionist to gain insight from her perspective and what a day in the life is like for a dairy nutritionist. Check out my interview below to discover the huge variety of foods cows can eat, how many different diets cows can have, and much much more!
INTERVIEW WITH JENNA TAYLOR, DAIRY NUTRITIONIST
Tell me about yourself and your background.
I grew up in Stockbridge, MI on my family’s 100 cow dairy farm. We also raised holstein steers and farm 2,000 acres of corn, wheat, soybeans, and hay. In 2008 we sold our milk cows but my grandpa, dad, uncle and brother still raise steers and crops. I was also involved in 4-H, showing Guernsey heifers and Holstein steers at our local fair and participated in Dairy Judging and Quiz Bowl at the State show.
How and why did you become a dairy nutritionist?
When I participated in Quiz Bowl, each year had a focus for the questions such as health, reproduction, or nutrition. I always found the nutrition topic interesting and I guess that is when my interest in nutrition really started. After high school I attended MSU but in the Dairy Tech program which is a 2 year short course in Dairy Management. While in the tech program I had some amazing professors that really helped me to focus on nutrition. I also did an internship during my tech program with a feed company and after I finished my Animal Science degree from MSU I went to work for that company and still work there to this day!
What is your role as a dairy nutritionist?
As a nutritionist it is my job to ensure the cows are healthy and eating the most nutritious diet possible. I work with the farmer to help balance the diet using forages and grains they grow or buy and supplement where needed. I also work with the farm veterinarian because cow health is our number one goal and nutrition is key to the cows’ health, especially when the cow has a calf. Metabolic disorders can happen very easily during this time and making sure the diet is balanced as perfectly as possible is extremely important.
What do cows eat?
Cows can eat lots of different things because of their unique digestive system, but the most common diet in Michigan consists of alfalfa silage or dry hay, corn silage, high moisture or dry ground corn, soybean meal, canola meal, minerals and vitamins. But I have some farms that feed apple pulp (only lasts 4 or 5 days) or bakery waste. That’s the great thing about cows they can take what would be waste and would end up in a landfill and turn it into milk or meat. They are great recyclers!
(Jenna also mentioned cows eat citrus pulp, almond hulls and even cotton seeds in other parts of the United States! Who knew?!)
Are there different types of cow diets?
There are many different types of diets on a farm. From calves to dry cows every group has different requirements. One farm may have 3-4 different diets a cow will receive based on her stage of lactation, a fresh diet for right after she has a calf until about 30 days then a high diet (a higher energy-dense diet) which she will be on during her peak lactation and lastly a mid or late lactation diet once she reaches the end of her lactation and is ready to become dry. The term dry is used to describe the 2 months a cow will not be milking while she is in the end of her pregnancy. And she will get two different diets during her dry period a far-off dry and close-up dry. So, yes there are lots of different diets on a farm – I could keep going!
How important is your role to the dairy farm families you work with?
My role is very important on the farm and I don’t take the responsibility lightly. How well I do at balancing the diets directly affects the farm families livelihood.
How often do you visit the dairy farms you work with?
I am on the farms that I work with weekly.
I’ve heard dairy cows eat a better balanced diet than most humans, is that true? Why is planning the diets of cows so important?
Yes, that is true. I feed my cows better than I do myself! I balance the diet for over 40 different nutrients and it gets pretty precise right down to the amino acids. This is important because if I don’t have it right and am not giving the cow what she needs then she can not reach her full potential or may be putting her health at risk, and my number one goal is healthy, happy cows.
Do cows really have four stomachs? Does that impact the way they eat?
Yes they do, or you could say a four-compartment stomach, this is why they can digest things we cannot. The main stomach, or rumen, is actually a 50 gallon fermentation vat that uses anaerobic fermentation to break down the feed. So I am actually feeding the “bugs” in the rumen not the cow 🙂
What’s one thing you wish people knew about dairy farming or dairy foods that they may not be so familiar with?
I wish people knew how much dairy farmers care about their cows. Cow health is their number one goal and I feel there is a huge misconception from the public. Also, I wish everyone would eat more dairy products. They’re some of the most nutritious foods we have!
What is the biggest misconception that you wish people knew in regards to treatment of cows, their diet, lifestyle, etc?
Probably the biggest misconception is antibiotics in milk. There are no antibiotics in milk, ever! Yes cows that get sick we treat with antibiotics just as you would treat your kids if they get sick, but it has to be completely cleared from their system before the milk can be sold. Another misconception is cow comfort. These cows have it made! They sleep on beach sand, have fans and sprinklers to keep them cool in the summer and have an endless buffet of nutritious food!