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Cattle Diets and Nutrition

How many pounds of grain and gallons of water does a cow need to consume in order to produce one pound of beef?


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April 21, 2011 3:11PM

In order to produce one pound of beef, a beef steer (NOT a cow!!) needs to eat 9.0 lbs of grain and drink approximately 150 Gal. of water.

The water dilemma in the case is often grossly over estimated with many people. The thing to remember is that most of the water that is added on to the production of a pound of beef comes from the water needed to produce crops to feed that steer and the forage needed to feed the cow and calf. Note that this would be valid if water had an alternate use, but apparently this is not so, not on this Earth. Much of the life if the cow and calf is spent on dryland pasture that is not irrigated by man-made irrigation systems. It is "irrigated" by Mother Nature. This dryland pasture that the cow and calf are on is only good enough for producing food for that cow and calf, not for human consumption. The rest of the water is from dryland crops, and even some of that water that is put into this gross estimate is inedible crop residues. The rain that falls on this dry land is not available for any other use; thus it shouldn't be included in that estimate of water to produce that amount of beef.

As for the amount of grain it takes to produce one pound of beef, this all depends on what type of grain the animal is fed. Sixteen pounds per day is good for animals fed corn since it has a lower energy and protein content than other grains like barley or wheat. And what about what's fed in addition to corn? Typically one would think that with 16 lbs of grain to produce 1 lb of beef there has to be something additional here that cattle are fed to produce that amount of beef, like hay or silage, for instance, that is not being taken into account here. Nine pounds seem to be more practical for a beef animal fed on an all-grain diet, but 16 lbs? That sounds a little far-fetched.