Approximately 70-75% of the cost of raising cattle goes directly to feed.
Before considering how and what to feed cows or cattle it is important to understand the animal’s digestive system. Cows have a ruminant digestive system which means their stomach is actually made up of four parts. Ruminant micro-organisms in the first three parts digest the fibrous parts of their feed. This microbial activity produces and releases essential nutrients, amino acids, and vitamins.
To feed them, you need to know that cattle require protein, water, energy, fats, minerals, and vitamins for optimum health. How much of each depends on many factors such as age, the current season, and your personal production goals.
You can meet their protein and carbohydrate levels by feeding a high-quality legume hay. The poor-quality feeds (cereal straw, grass straws, or rain-damaged hay) will require an added protein and energy supplement which are available t your local farm supply store.
As for vitamins it is important to know that beef cattle do not normally need vitamin A, B, or E supplementation. These are supplied by average feeds and/or by their own bodies during the digestion process.
One of the biggest concerns over a vitamin deficiency is of Vitamin A. This deficiency is often the result of feeding dry, bleached-out hay with symptoms of watery eyes, a rough coat, night blindness, and lack of weight gain. Secondary deficiency is Vitamin D. This is only a concern if you raise your cattle in the barn without natural sunlight daily.
Common Cattle Supplements
Minerals that contribute to bones, teeth, and lipid functions are usually supplied through good quality feed, but supplementation is often required. Be certain to talk to your feed supply store about selenium and any other known deficiencies in your region.
The three main types of mineral supplements are salt, trace salt and mineral mixes. 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. And mineral mixes, which usually contain major minerals such as calcium and phosphorus as well as trace minerals and some salt. We provide these suppliments to cattle through a salt lick or feed additive.
Finally, don’t forget the importance of fresh clean water at all times and in all seasons. As a general rule one cow or steer will consume 5-15 gallons of water per day depending on their size, age, use, and the weather.
Types of Cattle Feed
Most often found in a concentrate or roughage. Concentrates are high in digestible nutrients while grains and protein feeds are the top two examples of a concentrate. Roughages are generally low in digestible nutrients and this food type includes hay, pasture, and silage.
The percentage of required roughage and concentrate in beef cattle feed depends on the type and age of the cattle you ae feeding. Feedlot steers are fed mostly grain with a little roughage, while bred cows are often wintered mainly on good-quality roughage.
If you feed out cattle for slaughter, you can either purchase feed or grow and mix it in your own barn.
Hormones or other substances to promote growth are widely used in the cattle industry and are said to be safe but for personal use we don’t stray from the standard grass fed cattle with a little corn or grain at the end. In finishing feed from the farm supply stores you will find additives such as ionophores. These decrease rumen upset while increasing feed efficiency and maximum weight gain. Use at your own discretion.