Feed is the most important aspect of cattle rearing. It accounts for approximately 50 to 60% of the total costs associated with the production of milk. For this reason, the pressure to provide supplementary feed is mounting world over. An enormous amount of research has therefore been invested towards livestock productivity; most of it being directed to ways in which affordable dairy cattle feed ingredients can be utilized to maintain animal life, reproduction and to improve milk production. Dairy cattle feed ingredients can basically be categorised into two, roughage and concentrates. Roughage is high in fibre and includes hay, lucerne, silage and all the plant material. Concentrates are feed rich in protein, energy or both and they are the most expensive. Concentrates include dairy meal, maize germ, cotton seed cake, wheat pollard, maize grain, soya beans.

Soybean Meal

Incorporating soybeans and their by-products in the rations for dairy cattle is a common practice around the world. Soybean meal, heat processed whole soybeans, and soybean hulls are the major soybean products used as dairy cattle feed ingredients. Soybean meal represents approximately 2/3 of the total world output of protein feed stuff. It is a highly recommended source of protein for cattle. As a matter of fact, soybean meal is among the most important dairy cattle feed ingredients and so is used in the production of commercially produced feeds. Soybean has a nutrient content that is complementary to cereal grains such as corn, which makes this an excellent combination of feeds for dairy cows. Soybean meal contains an estimate of 43 to 53% protein content and about 3% crude fibre. According to various agricultural research, soybean meal is characterised by a superior balance of amino acids. It contains high amounts of lysine, tryptophane, threonine and isoleucine, which are often lacking in cereal grains. The protein value of soybean meal is therefore unparalleled. It plays a crucial role in the physical development of dairy cows. Dairy cattle fed soybean meal tend to perform better in comparison to other animals. Also, they reach maturity timeously allowing for improved productivity.  Soybean meal is also of the essence in maintaining the health of dairy cattle.

Grainy Feed

Grain is a major supplementary dairy cattle feed ingredient. It is often used during dry seasons when pasture falls short. Dairy cows are ruminant animals. They have a complex digestive system which enables them to digest fibrous plant material. This qualifies grains as efficient dairy cattle feed ingredients. Grainy feed has gained favour among the agricultural community due to its highly palatable and easily digestible nature. Grainy feed is rich in starch which is an important means of increasing the energy metabolism intake of dairy cattle. It is also essential for improved milk production and weight gain. When used correctly, incorporating a slower digesting source of starch such as maize grain in milking cow diets may be beneficial in several ways:

  • Grainy feed can sometimes maintain a more stable rumen pH and avoid the milk fat depression often seen when diets high in wheat are fed.
  • Animals at risk of ruminal acidosis are fed with a slower digesting source of starch such as maize grain so as to mitigate risk.
  • High temperatures can sometimes have a negative impact on appetite, energy intake and milk production. The ability of dairy cattle to digest and absorb nutrients requires sufficient energy, and so inclusion of grains with high energy density and low fibre content like maize is an effective solution.

That being said, note that grainy feed is low in calcium hence the need for a calcium rich supplementary feed. To add on, grain dairy cattle feed ingredients are beneficial if proportions of wheat and grain are well balanced. The proportion of wheat or maize in the mixture should not exceed 50% or 30%. A grain-based concentrate fed to a high production herd at approximately 8 to 10kg per cow per day could, for example, include a mix of two-thirds to ¾ wheat and ¼ maize grain, plus a protein supplement such as canola meal and other dairy cattle feed ingredients.

Cotton Cake

Soybean meal usually commands a higher market value that can sometimes be beyond the financial capacity of most farmers. The issue is even worse for farmers that keep larger herds of cattle. Cotton cake is considered a cost effective nutritious feed which can be used as an alternative to soybean meal. It is among the most preferred dairy cattle feed due to its superior nutrient value. Cotton cake contains a substantial amount of protein and energy necessary for lactating cows. It is also a great source of the forage-type neutral detergent fibre which is often used for forage replacement. To add on, it is rich in fat and trace nutrients among other minerals that are needed to improve the body condition of livestock and reproductive performance. As such, animals on cotton cake dietary plans tend to be highly productive. Its high energy content also makes it a suitable addition for cows with reduced appetite, especially those that are experiencing weather-related stress and those that have just freshened. Calcium found in cotton cake plays an important role in milk production. It is advisable to provide limited amounts of cotton cake because it has gossypol that can be harmful to animals. Although mature livestock are more tolerant, excess provision of cotton cake may affect milk production.

Dairy Cattle Feed Additives

Feed additives are basically a group of nutrient rich ingredients that produce beneficial animal response such as pH shift, growth and metabolic modifier. They are therefore provided as a means to improve on productivity. Examples of feed additives for dairy cattle include yeast, mycotoxin binders, rumen buffers and biotin. Most feed additives are provided in the form of nutrients including calcium which is important in milk production, magnesium, vitamins A, D and E, selenium, copper, phosphorus, iodine, iron, manganese, and sodium. Agricultural research states that inclusion of these compounds in dairy cattle diets, especially in early lactation, may increase dry matter intake, increase milk and milk component production, stabilize the rumen fermentation and increase rumen microbial growth. Some feed additives are in the form of antibiotics which allows dairy cattle some form of resistant to diseases. Antibiotics can also be used to improve on animal growth. Note that antibiotics are frowned upon and in some countries a ban has been place on their usage for growth. As such, natural feed additives are recommended. Below are major justifications for feed additives in dairy cattle:

  • Higher milk yield (peak milk, milk persistency)
  • Increase in milk components (protein, fat)
  • Greater dry matter intake
  • Increase digestion in the digestive tract
  • Stabilize rumen environment and pH
  • Improve growth (gain, feed efficiency)
  • Reduce heat stress effects
  • Improve health (such as less ketosis, reduce acidosis, or improve immune response)


Dairy farmers are under pressure to meet the forever increasing world demand for milk. This has been exacerbated by exorbitant costs of commercially produced feed. Although some farmers are still able to provide animals with commercially produced feed, it limits profitability therefore is not sustainable, especially where large numbers of cattle are involved. As such, there is need for farmers to have adequate knowledge about supplementary dairy cattle feed ingredients. Properly implemented dairy cattle nutrition programs can improve milk production, health, and reproductive performance of dairy cows for both the milking herd and dry cows. An important point to note is the nutritional value and digestibility of the feed. In addition, farmers should be aware of the recommended rations as excess feeding can have adverse effects on animal health and also limit milk production.