Locally Grown Fodder For Organic Cows

DENMARK - With the right mix of herbs in roughage for cattle, many organic farmers can satisfy the vitamin and mineral requirements of their animals with home grown feed thus avoiding the need to import supplements.
calendar icon 17 January 2011
clock icon 3 minute read

Environmentally aware consumers with an inclination towards the New Nordic Kitchen are not the only ones interested in locally grown food.

Dairy cows are also on the bandwagon. This is, at least, the case on organic dairy farms where the farmers want as much as possible of the cow feed to originate from Danish fields. This wish, however, is not always easy to fulfil if the cows’ requirements for protein, vitamins and minerals are to be fully met with Danish, organically grown products. However, help is on the way.

Studies undertaken by scientists from the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences, Aarhus University, have investigated if using home grown roughage with a high natural mineral and vitamin content can cover the cows’ requirements for these nutrients in organic dairy production.

The results are promising and the new knowledge can be used to bring organic cows a step closer to the totally home grown feed ration.

"In the study it was possible to fulfil the required amount of vitamins and minerals with the roughage. With regard to feed uptake, milk yield and reproduction the feeding strategy was just as good as or better than a traditional organic feeding strategy using a vitamin and mineral supplement," says senior scientist Jakob Sehested from the Department of Animal Health and Bioscience at the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences.

A leading principle of organic farming is that there should be sustainable use of resources. This includes recycling nutrients. Since it has been difficult to fully live up to this principle with regard to vitamins and minerals it has been necessary for organic farmers to purchase vitamin and mineral supplements for their animals.

This is where organic farmers meet with a problem. The possibilities for purchasing organic supplements are very limited. The scientists therefore put together a feeding strategy in which the roughage can provide the cows with the required amounts of vitamins and minerals.

The home grown supply of vitamins and minerals was managed by having roughage consisting of a silage mix of grass, clover, chicory, plantains and alfalfa. This mix was compared with traditional organic feed in which the roughage consisted of a silage mix comprising whole grain maize, whole grain barley/pea, grass, and clover supplemented with a vitamin and mineral mix. Rolled oats and rape seed cake were supplemented with both strategies.

The results showed that the cows fed the home grown research feed were just as healthy and productive as the cows fed traditional organic feed.

"The crop’s botanical composition, the soil type and management are all important for the mineral and vitamin content of the crop, but the perspective is that organic farmers can attain a much greater degree of self-sufficiency with regard to vitamins and minerals in the dairy cow feed ration without having to purchase feed supplements," says Jakob Sehested.

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