Feeding Beef Cattle
Unlike humans, beef cattle have a ruminant digestive system. Their stomachs are
made up of four parts. Ruminant microorganisms in the first three parts enable cattle to digest fibrous feeds that
humans cannot. This microbial breakdown produces essential nutrients such as amino acids and B vitamins. The
presence of these nutrients makes beef very useful for human consumption.
Cattle require protein,
energy, water, fat, minerals, and vitamins. The amounts vary according to environment, the cow's age, time of year,
and production goals. Availability of feedstuffs also varies by location and season. Up to 75 percent of the cost
of raising an animal goes to feed.
Protein and carbohydrate levels be adequate for growth and maintenance normally are
found in high quality legume hay, such as alfalfa and clover. Poor quality feeds, such as cereal straw, grass
straw, or rain damaged hay, require protein or energy supplements. You can purchase supplements from your feed
Beef cattle normally do not need vitamin A, B, or E supplementation. They can get these
vitamins from normal quality feedstuffs. However, a vitamin A deficiency can result from feeding dry, bleached out
hay. Symptoms of vitamin A deficiency include watery eyes, rough hair coat, night blindness, and poor gains.
Vitamin D is formed by the action of sunlight on animal tissues. If you confine your
cattle to a barn or stall for extended periods of time, vitamin D deficiency may become a problem.
Minerals are inorganic compounds that contribute to bones, teeth, protein, and lipid
functions of the body. Minerals are provided through natural feeds and supplementation.
There are three main categories of mineral supplements:
• Salt, which usually is sold as iodized salt and does not contain other minerals
• Trace mineralized salt, which consists of a large percentage of salt and traces of
some or all of the following: copper, iron, iodine, cobalt, manganese, selenium, and zinc
• Mineral mixes, which usually contain major minerals such as calcium and phosphorus
as well as trace minerals and some salt.
You can provide supplements as licks or mix them into feed. The composition of needed salt
or mineral supplements varies depending on your locale and feedstuffs. Clean water is essential and must be
provided at all times. Under normal conditions, cattle consume 4 to 20 gallons of water per day depending on size,
age, and weather. Heat dramatically increases water consumption.
Types of feed
Feedstuffs are categorized as concentrates or roughages. Concentrates are high in
digestible nutrients. Grains and protein supplements are examples of concentrates. Roughages are feedstuffs that
are low in digestible nutrients. Examples of roughages include hay, pasture, and silage.
The percentage of roughage and concentrate in beef cattle rations depends on the type
of animal being fed. For example, feedlot steers are fed mostly grain and a little roughage, while bred cows may be
wintered on good-quality roughage alone. Use caution though because high quality legume hay such as alfalfa may
As a general rule, beef cattle consume up to 3 pounds of feed per day for each 100
pounds of body weight. A 500-pound weaned calf, for example, will eat 15 pounds of high quality alfalfa hay per
Cattle usually weigh 600 to 700 pounds before they are placed on a high grain
(high-energy) ration. This diet is fed until slaughter weight is achieved.
If you feed out cattle for slaughter, you can purchase feed or grow and mix it at home.
If only a few animals are being finished, it may be more economical to purchase the mixed ration from a feed
Growth promotants, including anabolic steroids (implants), may have a place in your
operation. They are used widely in the industry and have been proven safe. Ionophores are feed additives that
decrease rumen upset, increase feed efficiency, and increase daily gains. These chemicals can improve gain
significantly; however, they do not compensate for poor management.
More information on finishing rations and feeding cattle for slaughter are available
from your local extension office. Most extension offices will have a Cow Calf Management Guide available for your
Small Beef Cattle Financial Records