Vista Alegre Baserria Feeding cows 2.9- Feed supplements in dairy cow feeding regimes:
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2.9- Feed supplements in dairy cow feeding regimes: PDF Print E-mail

For several reasons, cattle feed may have to be bought to supplement those supplied by the farm’s own pastureland:
• An imbalance between herd size and available pastureland: such an imbalance should not exist or should be minimal in farms managed according to agroecological parameters. In the specific case of the Vista Alegre farm there is still a certain imbalance of this type. There are three possible ways of overcoming this situation (a) to reduce herd size, (b) to increase the amount of land run by the farm (the fact that it is extremely difficult to gain access to more farmland -in this case, pastureland- makes this solution well nigh impossible) and (c) to continue to import feed supplements but minimising the negative impacts of this option.

• Lack of land suitable for cultivation: it should be noted that there are dairy farms in the Basque Country that produce their own supplementary feed: maize, peas, field beans or barley, for example. However, very little of the land run by the Vista Alegre is arable, due to climate conditions (precipitation is a very limiting factor as it hinders the use of farm machinery) or geomorphological reasons (almost none of the farmland is flat) for example, and thus cultivating forage crops is not an option that would be appropriate from an agroecological point of view.

• As a result there may be an insufficiency of certain elements in the herd’s nutrition. Specifically, should a farmer aim to for high milk yields, cows require large energy and protein inputs. Given that cows can only eat a certain amount per day, forage alone cannot provide such amounts of energy and protein, and thus different amounts of concentrates are added to a cow’s daily feed ration according to the amount of milk to be produced.

However, the sole objective of maximising milk yield per cow is not compatible with an agroecological approach to dairy farming given that, as mentioned above, the aim of such an approach is to simultaneously fulfil a variety of objectives (such as optimum milk quality, a balance between livestock farming and the environment so as to be sustainable, etc) and so livestock feeding regimes cannot be based mainly on supplements, but rather these should be minimised and the use of local forage maximised. As such it is recognised and accepted that cattle fodder based mainly on the use of local forage (grazed or harvested from a farm’s own fields) will give less milk per cow in terms of litres (but, on the other hand, it will have a positive influence on milk quality, see section 3.4). Any supplement used would aim to compensate the nutrient deficiencies of a given farm’s pasturelands: in the northern coastal area of the Spanish Member State (“Green Spain” or the “Cornisa Cantábrica”), such deficiencies are most mainly related to insufficient energy content, sometimes insufficient protein content and insufficient phosphorous and magnesium.

Cornisa Cantábrica

The forage supplied by pastureland on the Vista Alegre farm is deficient in energy terms and until 2011 was supplemented with forage maize, barley and sugar beet pulp bought in from different parts of the Spanish Member State. A certain amount of soy bought from a different continent altogether provided a protein supplement. The short term objective of the Vista Alegre farm regarding supplementary feed was to minimise the use of concentrates, completely eliminate use of soy and centre on forage supplements from organic sources. (Obviously, as mentioned above, the farm also proposes to reduce its dairy herd size and / or try and access more pastureland).

maize silage

sugar beet pulp

concentrate (barley and soy)

• Factors such as sporadic anomalies in weather patterns also make use of supplements necessary.

The relation between food sovereignty and autarchy is currently under debate, the majority opinion at present being that food sovereignty can be achieved without autarchy. The important points with regards to the use of bought-in supplements in cattle fodder are considered to be, firstly, that clear limits should be established to the degree upon which a farm depends on imported supplements and, secondly, limits should be placed on the type of farming methods used in their cultivation.

Different sorts of supplements are used in dairy cattle feeding regimes. The main ones are concentrates of one sort or another. They are usually low in fibre content, high in energy content, highly palatable and can be consumed rapidly. However, these do not stimulate rumination and often ferment more rapidly than forage in the rumen. Acidity of the rumen then increases (pH falls), which itself interferes with the normal fermentation of fibres. This is one of the reasons for which the use of large quantities of supplements in the form of concentrates is incompatible with an agroecological approach to feeding dairy cows: health problems can occur when concentrates constitute more than 60-70% (or even less) of a cow’s daily ration of fodder. Equally, the presence of too much cereal grain in supplements reduces rumination which itself interferes with the proper functioning of the rumen and, as a consequence, the fat content of milk falls.

Concentrates include cereal grains, maize starch flour, brewery and distillery by-products, roots and tubers, sugar refinery by-products, seeds from members of the pea family (Leguminosae) and, in the past, animal proteins.

Cereals (Gramineae) generally contain:
• many carbohydrates, on average between 58% and 72%, such as starch (energy)
• a low level of proteins, from 8% to 13%
• 2% - 5% lipids
• mineral salts
• 2% to 11% fibre
• vitamins, mainly from the B complex

Examples of the nutritional value of two cereals frequently used to date as supplements on the Vista Alegre farm (per 100 grams)

Maize Barley
Energy (kJ) 1498.0 1430.0
Proteins (g)
9.0 11.0
Lipids (g) 3.8
Carbohydrates (g)
71.0 72.0
Calcium (mg) 15.0 38.0
Iron (mg)
1.5 2.8
Potassium (mg) 330.0
• B1 (mg) 0.36 0.43
• B2 (mg) 0.20
• B3 (mg) 1.50
• B6 (mg) 0.40
• B9 (folic acid) (mg) 0.026 0.065
• E (mg)



The cultivation of transgene maize (MON810) in the Spanish Member State is having a negative impact on the possibility of finding and buying organic forage maize due mainly to the contamination of organic maize crops by genetically modified (GM) maize crops. Thus maize  is no longer used for fodder on the Vista Alegre farm and will not be in the future, at least until GM-free sources can be guaranteed.

In any case, at present 37% of cereals produced worldwide is used to feed farm animals, at a time when over 1000 million people go hungry, a fact to bear in mind when defining the ethics, social orientation and sustainability of a livestock feeding regime.

With regards to other fodder supplements, the Vista Alegre farm used sugar beet pulp until 2011 for its energy content, such pulp being a by product from the sugar industry. 



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