All cows must have access to clean water and a well-balanced, nutritious diet. Proper nutrition provides cows with their most basic needs allowing them to remain in good health and full of energy. This is a basic and vital need for cows, just as it is for all animals.
This law is called the Animal Welfare Act. The Animal Welfare Act outlines how people must take care of and act towards animals in New Zealand. The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), the Police and SPCA work together to make sure people in New Zealand follow these laws.
Under the Animal Welfare Act, all animal guardians (owners) are responsible for making sure the welfare needs of animals in their care are met. Learning about the Five Domains helps us to understand these welfare needs and how we can make sure we provide these. One of the Five Domains is Nutrition. In this section you will learn about this domain and how you can make sure your cows have what they need for good nutrition.
Cows are herbivores, meaning they eat only plants. Cows have a really interesting way of eating and digesting their food. You might notice your cow chewing its food, swallowing it, then regurgitate the food and chewing it all over again. The special name for an animal that digests their food in this way is called a ruminant, and when they are standing/lying “chewing their cud,” or the regurgitated food – this is called rumination.
The word "ruminant" comes from the Latin ruminare, which means "to chew over again." Your cow basically swallows its food multiple times and then four special compartments of the cow’s stomach work very hard to digest the food and get the maximum amount of nutrients from the grass/pasture.
This may seem like a lot of work, but it is actually a very efficient way for a cow to eat, as it means your cow gets lots of nutrients from its food to make it healthy. As cows have very special digestive systems, you need to make sure you only feed your cow the feed that it is supposed to eat – getting advice from a veterinarian, farmer or farm store salesperson might be helpful.
Cows need a lot of water, especially when it is hot. Some adult cows will drink over 100 litres a day!
Just like you and I, cows don’t like drinking dirty water. So, you need to check they have plenty of fresh, clean drinking water all of the time.
Cows also need strong water troughs or concrete water troughs, so they can drink from it without knocking it over.
The main part of your cow’s diet should be pasture, and a mix of different things, including grasses, clover and other pasture plants. Cows love pasture and grass and can graze up to nine hours a day! If you have good quality pasture and lots of it, then your cow will only need a diet of pasture/grasses and a small amount of hay occasionally.
You can also offer small amounts of commercial grains to your cow – this is called ‘supplementing’. However, this is only recommended if your cow is not eating enough pasture, or you don’t have enough paddock area with grass to feed your cows. Additional hay or silage is another option, as cows also enjoy eating hay (or silage, or balage) when the grass is running low, or to provide some variety to your cow.
Remember to make sure your cow is not overeating though. If you don’t have enough feed for your cow, (or just want to make sure you are doing the right thing) and want to add grains/supplements, talking to your veterinarian (or local farmer) about the correct food and amount would be the best option.
If using hay (supplemental food), it is important that it stays dry and isn’t able to become wet, mouldy or dusty. Cows can get ill if hay becomes wet and mouldy, so you will need to make sure hay bales are covered properly and stored in a shed. If left outside, they should be covered securely with a tarpaulin or other waterproof materials.
If you feed your cow supplemental grain, this needs to be kept stored away in a dry, shaded space.
If it is kept outside, it should be wrapped up tightly and kept in a shed or some other safe place. This will keep their food protected from any rodents or birds that might be hungry!
As cows eat mainly pasture and other roughage (hay or grain), they do not always get all the nutrients they need to be healthy from their food. In this case, it is sometimes recommended you give your cow a mineral licks/blocks.
These are special rock like, hard blocks which contain important ingredients in them such as salt, calcium, copper, iodine, selenium, and zinc.
These ingredients will help your cow stay healthy and fit. Your local veterinarian will be able to suggest a mineral lick/block especially for cows, which contains the right minerals if needed.
You will also need to be able to keep the mineral block in an area that isn’t affected by rain, as they need to be kept dry.
Cows eat a lot of grass/pasture, so you will also need to look after your pasture to make sure it is enough for your cow to eat. If your cow has finished eating much of the pasture in one area, ideally you should have another area of pasture that your cow can have access to graze on.
This is called ‘rotating your pasture.’ Otherwise, store supplemental feed (e.g. grains, hay, silage or balage) to give to your cow when the grass has run out. It is best not to graze your grass area heavily and low to the ground.
You can help your pasture grow back faster by looking after it well, not grazing it too heavily and resting the pasture area for short periods.
There are many plants found on paddocks and pastures in New Zealand that are poisonous to livestock. It is important to identify plants on your property, so you can check if it is a danger to your cows.
If your family are unsure, the plants should be removed by an adult, just in case they are poisonous. Some of the plants we know are poisonous to cows include:
An adult will need to check to make sure that your pasture has none of these plants present. If you suspect your cow may have eaten something poisonous, you should call a veterinarian immediately.