Over past hundred years, the human population has quadrupled. Industries have expanded and the natural resources have been used in an unsustainable manner, without thinking of a long-term effect. Natural processes have been altered to fit the convenience or what seems to be the convenience of humans. One such example is the diet of the cows.
In pre-industrialized times, there were abundant pasturelands. The cows were free to roam and choose what they wanted to eat. They chose to eat what was suitable for their digestive system.
Today, we face a shortage of pasturelands and in turn, fresh green fodder. The diet intake of the cows is mostly controlled by dairy farmers to enhance the short-term production of milk.
Before we try to understand what a balanced diet for cows is, we must understand how the digestive system of a cow functions.
A cow’s digestive system is specially designed to digest grass and tree-based foods. The grass and tree-based fodders contain a subastance called cellulose which is essential for the cows.
It is a ruminant being; this means, it ferments the food before digesting. Its stomach is divided into four parts, one of which is the rumen. The rumen is like a large food processor; it contains the bacteria that help ferment and turn grass and tree-based fodder into nutrition.
When a cow first eats, it chews the food only enough to swallow. This food is stored in the rumen. Once the cow is done eating as much as it wants, it takes rest. During this period, it coughs up the food that was stored in rumen. This food is known as cud. After the cow has chewed the cud thoroughly, it goes to the other parts of its stomach, where it is completely digested. A part of digested food then goes to the udder where it is turned into milk, and rest of it is used as nutrition by the cow.
For a cow’s system to function correctly, it must take a balanced diet that has right proportion of grass and tree-based fodder.
The way dairy farming is practiced in India today, entails the dairy farmers to control the diet of the cows in a way that is suitable for enhancing short term milk production rather than the overall health of the cow. The dairy farmers feed their cows with crop residues and locally available feed ingredients like brans, cakes, chunnies, etc. and a minimal quantity of green fodder based on the availability. These foods are not very nutritious for the cow. To compensate for the lack of nutrition, the cows are fed with industrially manufactured cattle feed.
Though the industrial feed is supposed to provide nutrition to the cow, it cannot replace the cellulose they get from grass and tree-based food. A balanced diet for a cow must comprise of monocots, dicots, and grass and tree-based fodder.
At Akshayakalpa, we understand this. We also understand that the nutritional requirements for cows vary based on their age. A calf up to the age of three months, cannot eat the diet that an adult cow eats as the rumen in a calf is still developing.
At Akshayakalpa farms, the cows are free to choose what they want to eat. They have continuous access to balanced fodder and clean drinking water.
Coming up next – How do we create a Balanced Diet for Cows?