You have “met” many of the people of East Hill Creamery, and now it’s time we introduce you to our lovely ladies—the ones with four legs that say “Moo!” These lovely ladies are quite special to us, and we would have no creamery if it wasn’t for them, so we are going to do several feature stories that focus on our cows. We want to show what it’s like to live the life of a cow in the East Hill herd. When you are enjoying our delicious cheese in the near future, you will be able to know all about the cows that it comes from. We will start this series by focusing on what our cows eat and what we do for their nutrition.
The cows at East Hill get to enjoy time in 65 different paddocks located around our farm. They spend the winters on bare fields, and the rest of the time, they are on the paddocks eating their fill of lush green grass. Every day, at 5:00 AM sharp, they get their wake up call when an employee arrives at the paddock, opens the gate and the cows start making their way along the paved laneway to the grain barn. It takes about 45 minutes on average, depending on the distance from the parlor, for them to get to the grain barn, and they are definitely ready for their breakfast when they arrive. They spend about 10-15 minutes in the grain barn and eat a mixture of corn gluten, corn meal, and minerals that come from a commercial feed supplier. Sometimes they will get some cottonseed hulls for fiber.
We give our cows grain because it gives them extra nutrients and energy so that they do not have to work so hard to get all the nutrition they need from grass alone. This is a buffer and gives them a reserve in times of stress (breeding, inclement weather, calving, long distance walking, heat, etc.). A cow has four stomachs, but her intake is limited because of all the water in the forage.
She will get full fast from eating so much grass, and the grain gives her an extra boost of nutrition and helps to balance her diet. If we didn’t give the cows the little bit of grain we give them, they would be too skinny. Our grass is very lush and low in fiber (which is why we sometimes supplement the cows’ diet with cottonseed hulls). Too much fiber can create limited production, laminitis, and lower body function, so we find a nice balance.
When the cows are done eating their grain, they go into the milking parlor where they have a water tank in front of them the whole time they are being milked. They are usually pretty thirsty after their breakfast in the grain barn, and this way they can drink their fill of water while they get milked. We have a swing 40 milking parlor and can milk 200 – 240 cows per hour. This allows the cows to get milked expeditiously, which means they spend less time standing on concrete in the holding area waiting to be milked. Thus, they have more time to be eating and resting.
After they get milked, the cows go back to pasture. In fact, our cows are going out to their summer pastures this next week. They go to a new pasture after every milking. The routine is the same for the afternoon milking. They are on perennial rye grass that we have seeded. It is high in energy and low in fiber. The dry stock and non-lactating animals (weaned calves, rising yearling heifers) get fescue grass. In the winter, the cows get corn silage out of a wagon and bales of baleage (hay) for their meals.
Our cows have been on this diet for 15 years. We really try not to change things, because we want less interferences for them. Cows don't like change, they are creatures of habit. Our goal is to keep it simple. We are proud of what our cows eat and the lives that they live here at East Hill. We will continue to teach you more things about them, and as always, please send us any questions or comments. If you have something specific you would like to know about, let us know. Thanks for reading!