What Do Holstein Cows Eat? 2 Main Types That You Should Feed To Your Cow!

Holstein cows are classified as the No. 1 breed in dairy production, as many countries rely on them to provide their needs for dairy products. Holstein cows are not like other breeds of cows, rather they participate in a large part of the economy of some countries.

The dairy industry is pretty popular in some countries, such as the United States. These cows dominate the dairy industry there, and they are the main breed in most farms. When you enter a cow farm in the United States that contains 10 cows, most probably, you will find that 9 of them are Holstein cows!

Due to the great importance of Holstein cows, they receive great attention in all respects. for example, continuous studies and research are conducted on their daily diet to obtain the highest quality diet that makes Holstein cows in the highest productive state and obtain double quantities of milk and thus achieve the highest possible profits.

In this article, we’re taking a closer look at the nutrition of Holstein cows. We did our research and we’re addressing the different foods that should be part of your Holstein cow nutrition in order to get the most milk production, health, and profit.

What Do Holstein Cows Eat?

Cows are eating

Holstein cows on dairy farms eat a variety of foods to ensure they receive a balanced diet that increases milk production and ensures that they stay healthy and can produce strong calves.

The diet of Holstein cows must contain food components that meet their nutritional needs, namely, fodder (dry and wet fodder), Concentrate (carbohydrates, proteins, fats, minerals, and vitamins), and clean water. You might be surprised to know that the daily diets of Holstein cows are planned by a nutritionist! It may be familiar to humans, as some go to a dietitian to adjust their meals, but in fact, cows are no less important than humans to dairy manufacturers.

They employ a nutritionist whose main task is to determine the nutritional ratio for each cow based on a study of its characteristics and production capacity. They determine exactly the amount of protein, fiber (fodder), and other nutrients such as minerals and vitamins that the cow needs.

Let’s talk in detail in the coming lines about each of these foods and their proportions and types, so that the matter becomes clear. 

Generally, Holstein cow’s diets consist of 2 main components:

1. Fodder

Fodder is the base of the diet of Holstein cows, especially in the winter. Cow nutrition experts say the amount of feed a cow needs is equivalent to 50-60% of its diet. Forage is the plants (grass or hay) that are primarily consumed by herbivores.

There are two types of feed:

  • Dry.
  • Wet.

Cow nutrition experts are used to analyzing each bite of the Fodder that the Holstein cow gets in search of the proportions of important nutrients such as calcium, protein, fiber, sodium, phosphorus, and other vitamins and minerals. Just to make sure that Holstein cows are receiving the most out of their fodder.

Dry Feed

Dry Feed is made of natural pastures, fresh fodder, alfalfa hay, or a mixture of both alfalfa grass and hay or straw. The cows are fed according to the farm system, where sometimes some dairy farmers feed the Holstein cows a mixture of both fodder and hay. You will also notice that some farms feed the cows only hay or fodder.

Wet Fodder

Wet fodder is made of silage (fermented fodder). Farmers select the best silage and cut it during the spring and summer months and then ferment it to preserve its nutritional content. Silage is nutrient-rich grasses such as barley, alfalfa, rye grass, wheat, sorghum grass, green corn stalks, Bermuda seagrass, Sudan hay, and other fermentable grasses.

2. Concentrate 

Concentrates represent another half of the diet of Holstein cows in addition to the fodder mentioned above. It usually refers to foods rich in proteins, carbohydrates, fats, minerals, and vitamins.


Carbohydrates are the largest component of the cow’s diet and are the main source of energy for Holstein cows. The energy requirements of lactating Holstein cows are met from both fibrous and non-fibrous carbohydrates.

Fibrous carbohydrates are carbohydrates found primarily in the dry matter while non-fibrous carbohydrates come from sugars, starch, fructans, pectin, and organic acids. Fiber promotes rumen health as it stimulates the movement and chewing of cows’ rumen and the free flow of saliva. Which leads to an increase in the production of salivary solutions, as well as a good flow of fluids from the rumen.[1]

Salivary solutions help maintain the pH of the rumen at the desired healthy rate. in addition to that, the high rate of fluids helps to increase the efficiency of microbial energy and protein production as well. Cows get carbohydrates from grains. Barley, wheat, corn, oats, soybeans, molasses, and beet pulp are the main sources of carbohydrates.

Basic grains such as wheat, corn, barley, and oats are often grown in Holstein cow farms, while soybeans, molasses, and beet pulp are purchased from the feed mill.


Protein is a very important part of the Holstein cow meal, as cows use protein (amino acids) to build muscles, organs, and various tissues in the body and to produce milk proteins, enzymes, and immunoglobulins. The primary sources of protein are canola, corn gluten meal, soybean meal, and distillate grains.


Feeding the fat in the right way is necessary as it makes the cows produce more milk, and it increases the milk fat, which is required in Holstein cows. Holstein cows especially need fat because they are known for their low-fat milk. The fat also helps improve the fertility of Holstein cows by achieving a better balance in energy levels and by improving the concentrations of hormones related to reproduction. Vegetable oil is the primary source of fat in addition to lard and protected fatty acids.

Minerals And Vitamins

Some may think that cows do not need vitamins and minerals or that they are not of great importance. This is not true, as vitamins and minerals perform important functions in the bodies of Holstein cows and dairy cows in general.

Therefore, feeding Holstein cows adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals is essential for their health, good growth, and optimal milk production. Nutritional deficiencies of minerals or vitamins can lead to increased disease, decreased milk production, reproductive problems, and decreased growth rate.

Therefore, it must be present in the diet of Holstein cows, but for specific reasons described as a certain percentage of the diet or some grams per day. Excessive consumption of them is unhealthy and may even be harmful to Holstein cows or even dangerous at times.

Minerals that Holstein cows need: calcium, phosphorus, sodium, magnesium, potassium, and chlorine.

Vitamins needed by Holstein cows are vitamins A, E, D, and B.

Related Article: How Much Does A Holstein Cow Eat Per Day?


3 cows and one of them drinks water

Lactating Holstein cows need 60 to 70 liters of water per day to maintain their health and an additional 4-5 liters for each liter of milk they produce. Clean water sources must be provided for watering the cows, as cows are selective in terms of water, so they only drink clean water, and if they do not find it, they may not drink. It should be borne in mind that the amount of water needed by cows is greatly affected by temperature.

For example, if there is an increase in temperature up to 4 degrees Celsius, the amount of water that cows need must increase by 6 to 7 liters per day. Highly productive Holstein cows drink up to 150 or 200 liters of clean water per day during hot days.

Cows spend about 3-5 hours a day eating, during which time they consume about 100 pounds of feed! That’s why some dairy farmers are trying to take advantage of the fact that cows can eat leftovers from human food. Cows are excellent tools for recycling, as they eat unwanted by-products and extract most of their nutritional value, turning them into milk and other useful products for humans. Popular human food that can be eaten by Holstein cows includes waste potatoes, waste fruit, and vegetables.

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Doaa Salah
The shy one (too shy to put her photo) and the only girl in our team! Doaa is a veterinarian who is passionate about writing content. She knows a lot about animals and birds, as she has been studying them for many years now. Her goal? She is researching and learning to convey to you all the knowledge she have and what's new about farming.