Dairy cow is original recycler
With four stomachs to fill, every one of the nearly 2 million dairy cows in California requires a steady supply of tasty food, much of it as castoffs from the state's other farming operations.
Enough focus has been given to the burping, belching and flatulence that accompany the bovine digestive process. It's time to consider the environmental cleanup that cows accomplish by exercising their hearty appetites, turning discarded agricultural byproducts into milk and other nutritious dairy products.
At the top of the list are almond hulls. California's 720,000 acres of almond trees yield unmeasured tons of them. Some of the hulls remain in the orchards, but many more stay wrapped around the almonds in their shells on their way to processing facilities to be removed and stored.
It's there that nutrition specialists for the dairy industry purchase the hulls to begin the mixing and matching with other products to provide specific rations that dairymen prefer for their cows.
To do that, the experts also consider quantities of corn in a dozen different forms, some of it byproducts from distilling, baking and brewing operations. Some processes use only certain parts of the corn kernel in preparing human food or fuel. What remains are tons of still nutritious rations suitable for cattle.
As cotton makes its comeback in California, cows can take advantage of the unique nutrition and fiber that the seeds provide, often processed into meal and cake forms. Cow rations also include a lot of soybean meal, even though soybeans are not a strong commercial crop in California.
Tomato pomace is left over after whole tomatoes, juice, sauce and ketchup are squeezed out of that vegetable that occupied 267,000 acres of California soil this year and produced 12 million tons of fruit. Cows love the flavor of the skins and seeds, which make up the bulk of pomace. They also relish the pulpy pomace of other processed fruits and vegetables as it is available from canneries and other processors.
The complete list of commodities that can be converted to cow feed seems endless. Citrus is included, as well as carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, asparagus, mayonnaise, pomegranates and rice bran. Even alfalfa and the grain crops have byproducts suitable for use in cattle rations in addition to their primary production.
Cattle nutrition specialists like Brian Rainey of Visalia pick and choose from the full list of California's agricultural byproducts to tailor feed rations for dairymen. Rainey is one of several nutrition experts who are part of Pine Creek Nutrition, one of the leading suppliers of specialized cow diets operating in California.
Dairymen choose higher or lower concentrations of the many ingredients to meet the changing needs of their herds. And the needs change with the weather, the condition of the cows and the availability of feed the dairyman grows on his own acreage. It becomes a complex challenge to maintain dairy animals at the peak of fitness and production.
Pregnant cows — and that includes all dairy animals periodically — require a different nutritional program from their herd mates who are at their peaks of milk output. Free-range cows on pasture require an entirely different supplemental diet.
With dairymen keeping tabs on each cow in their herds, and nutrition experts standing by with established values of various feed products and dietary combinations, cows in commercial dairies are in no danger of overdosing on any one ingredient. They gain only as much weight, for example, as their diets permit.
Who knew that the smiles on the faces of those happy cows were the result of their carefully controlled diets? And who knew that those dietary mixes go a long way toward cleaning up agricultural byproducts that otherwise might find their way to landfills?
Do we really want to deny the happy cows some truly satisfying burps and belches? And the exhaust? Just think of it as an aromatic blend of almond hulls and tomato pomace, topped off with some discarded asparagus spears.
CONTACT Don Curlee at firstname.lastname@example.org