Feeding Root Crops to the Homestead Cow

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Feeding Root Crops to the Homestead Cow

As recently as a few generations ago, feeding root crops to dairy cattle was common practice on small scale family dairy farms. I remember as a kid seeing a strange looking cutting machine covered in dust in the silo room on our farm. I asked dad what it was and he said it was a root cutter. He said that they used to use it to cut up beets, potatoes, and carrots to their feed the cows years ago, before “cheap corn”. Turns out that most root crops have very similar energy to corn on a dry matter basis.

Vegetables For Cows

Later I would read the book Farmer Boy to my children and notice that Mr. Wilder’s evening routine included going to the cellar and cutting uproot crops and pumpkins to feed the milk cows the next morning. This sparked more conversations with Dad. He told me of times when he was a kid when his father would buy a truckload of potatoes to feed the cows and save on corn. These potatoes were part of some gov’t price-fixing scheme. They “purchased” potatoes from farmers to help prop up the market price. The potatoes were dyed so that they couldn’t make it into stores but could be sold to livestock farmers. At least that’s what he told me.

Cutting The Crops

Back then dad’s job would be to cut up the taters with a spud because they didn’t have a fancy cutter like we had gathering dust in the silo room. Root crops must be cut up so the cows don’t choke on them. You’ve probably heard Corb Lund’s song, Talking Veterinarian Blues, where he mentions a beef cow with “sugar beet choke”. It’s a thing, so you need to be sure to cut them up. Anyhow, until very recently it was quite common to use root crops as a supplement in cattle rations.

What root crops did people traditionally feed cattle?

People have fed beets, mangles, carrots, potatoes, and turnips to cattle. All of these crops are fairly easy to grow, store easily and provide nutrition to cattle. While you don’t necessarily want to totally replace grains like corn with them, they can help to significantly cut back on them. As an interesting side note, many of the old livestock feed varieties of carrots are actually white-fleshed varieties. Old seed catalogs had many “fodder” varieties that were primarily grown for animal feed.

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