IANS – Feeding Cows Grain


It’s a lazy afternoon in the pasture.

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so. ~ Mark Twain

When George Gershwin composed the song It Ain’t Necessarily So, he was onto something. I’d love to have a nickel for everything I was taught or told or just accepted as fact in the course of my life. From food preservation to gardening to animal husbandry to medicine to finance, there have been a lot more ‘not-so’ things than ‘so’ things. A while back I did a post on not needing to waterbath jams and jellies; I got more than 100 comments corroborating my “not-so” position. At which point it occurred to me there are lots of other not-so things out there, and shazaam, I had an ongoing blog topic. Here’s the latest “it ain’t necessarily so” (IANS).

Cows must have grain to produce milk.
Nope. They produce just fine, in many cases, on grass and hay or just grass. The caveat is that it must be forage of good quality. If you think about it, cows evolved to eat grass, not grain. They got their grain in the form of ripe seedheads as they grazed in the summer and fall, and ate no grain at all the rest of the time. Old-timers fed their cows root vegetables as a supplement to hay, especially in those areas where it was difficult to grow grain. Turnips, carrots, Jerusalem artichokes (sometimes called sunchokes in older books), regular beets, sugar beets, potatoes and rutabagas have all been used to feed both cattle and other farm animals such as pigs and chickens. Beef cattle are often grazed on brassicas like cabbage and kale, but these can taint the flavor of the milk. Brassicas work well for dry cows or nurse cows you aren’t milking for the people in the household, however. The practice of feeding root crops fell out of favor in areas where corn was easy to grow, partly because corn silage supposedly required less labor. On the other hand, root crops can be stored in the ground through the winter in many climates, while corn silage requires big expensive buildings and heavy machinery. Not to mention, that constantly pushing for more production leads to all kinds of problems. For the individual cow it means being sold or slaughtered when she still has as much as six to eight years of production at a slightly lower level. For the farmer, it means being trapped in a constant cycle of having to produce more milk, with more expensive machinery (for which the farmer must go into debt), more land on which corn and soybeans are grown (to the great detriment of the environment) just to keep running at the same pace on the treadmill. Maybe if we didn’t have such tremendous surpluses of milk produced by heavily grain-fed Holsteins that are usually worn out at three or four years of age, we’d have better quality and fewer problems with dairy farmers going broke. I say quality trumps quantity almost every time.

Take a Missouri Approach
Missouri is the “show me” state. The mental attitude of “you’ll have to prove it to me” is a good one. Use your common sense. When your experience or that of people you trust is contrary to accepted scientific wisdom or expert recommendations, odds are very high the scientific wisdom and the experts are out to lunch. Ask the old homicide lawyer’s question, “Cui bono?” Loosely translated as “Who benefits?” what it actually means is “To whose profit?” When big bucks, company survival or professional reputations are on the line, ethics quite often take a back seat. Circus entrepreneur PT Barnum is credited as the person who coined the sucker-born-every-minute rule. In fact, there’s no evidence that he did say it; however, there is some evidence that it was said about Barnum’s tactics, by a banker named David Hannum. Don’t be a sucker and remember: it ain’t necessarily so.

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