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Forages are plants used for feeding ruminants. They are particularly diverse and can be fed to dairy cows in several forms.
A wide variety of forages to feed dairy cows
The diet of herbivorous ruminants such as cows is exclusively composed of plant products, of which forages represent the most important part. These consist of the vegetative parts of plants (leaves, stems, possibly roots), excluding seeds and fruits:
These are primarily plants grown specifically for feeding livestock. One of the particularities of French dairy farms is indeed their fodder autonomy: 90% of the fodder intended for the cows is produced and harvested within the farms themselves. These fodder species are numerous and selected to meet the needs of the animals, while presenting agronomic and environmental advantages. The most commonly used varieties are grasses such as rye grass, legumes (alfalfa, clover, etc.) and forage maize
Wild grasses that grow naturally in meadows, for example in mountain pastures, are also fodder. It is these grasses which, through the milk, give some of the cheeses produced at high altitudes their special flavour and their beautiful golden colour.
In what form do cows eat fodder?
Green fodder and conservation fodder alternate according to the season and the weather:
During the good weather, the cows eat and chew green fodder (fresh grass, cereals or maize cut before maturity…) directly in the meadows: this is the peak grazing season. In hot weather, the farmer may also cut the grass and distribute it to the cows in the cool of the barn.
In winter, when there is no more fresh grass, but also sometimes in summer if there is a drought, conservation fodder takes over. They are distributed to the animals in dried form: hay, alfalfa and dried cereals. They can also undergo anaerobic lactic fermentation, like sauerkraut: this is called silage.
On French dairy farms, farmers therefore maintain very close contact with the land. They pay particular attention to the fodder. The quality of the fodder is essential for the cows, which eat between 60 and 80 kg of food per day, to produce good milk.