Cattle Diets and Nutrition

Domestic bovines don't eat just grass: the diet of a bovine is surprisingly complex and involved with the variety of feeds in the form of forage, grain and byproducts available. But in order to determine the diet of a bovine one must understand the nutritional aspect of the bovine as well--an aspect that has its complexities and variations as well. If you are looking to learn and ask questions about the diets and nutrition of cattle, you've come to the right place.

3,570 Questions
Cattle Diets and Nutrition

Are there plants that cows will not eat?

Yes, if those plants are too coarse, bitter, or simply don't taste good. Some types of grasses, like Meadow Foxtail, Johnson grass, Cheat Grass, and some species of Canary Grass are some plants that cows won't touch.

Cattle Diets and Nutrition

What do cows and cattle eat?

Cattle (which include cows, bulls, steers, heifers and calves) are ruminants, which make them herbivorous (plant-eating) animals. A ruminant has a stomach with four chambers designed to break down fibrous plant material that monogastrics such as humans cannot digest properly. It is thus that cows primarily eat grasses and legumes not only restricted to open fields, but also out on pastures and rangelands. However, what these animals eat are not restricted to such generalities. A dairy cow's diet is often different from a beef cow's, as is a calf, a backgrounding steer's and a finisher steer's would be.

Dairy cows can eat up to 3 to 5% of their body weight in dry matter, and beef cows can eat up to 2 to 3% of their body weight in dry matter (more if they're lactating). The amount of forage they eat depends on the nutritional content and water content: hence cows will eat more grass than they will hay or grain. The amount of forage they eat also depends on their body weight and their nutritional needs in their stage of life: young calves will eat less but higher quality forages than full grown cows; cows that are lactating need high quality forages. Dry (non-milking) cows need less nutrient quality forages. Dairy cows typically need higher quality forages than beef cows.

Dairy cows are fed a mixture of grain and alfalfa hay, or, a TMR ration (total mixed ration) consisting of corn, hay, soy bean, and barley. Corn is sometimes used as a source of fiber. During winter time they are often fed silage, which is chopped up cereal grain plants that is harvested when partially wet (not sun-dried) and stored to be fermented by anaerobic bacteria for several weeks before being fed to them. They will also consume cracked corn, heifer grower (a mixture of corn, oats and other sources of nutrients), hays, grasses, young calves will be started on calf grower.

Beef cows are primarily on pasture most of their lives, but in some cases when winter is harsh, they will be fed hay (sun-dried grasses and legumes), and perhaps silage or grain, depending on the producer's management criteria.

Most beef cattle are allowed to fresh grazing. Cows and bulls, especially. Dairy cows are occasionally, though this also depends on the producer, who may otherwise have them kept in a barn for most of their lives. Beef cattle will also consume, hay, a mixture of grasses including but not limited to legumes (sanfoin, clover, alfalfa, laspedenza, trefoil, etc.) and grasses (timothy, orchard grass, wheat grass, brome, fescue, etc.), and possibly grains (oats, barley, corn soy beans, or sorghum). Insalage, silage, cracked corn, rolled corn, and sweet feeds are other feeds that are fed to cattle, mostly to those that a) have to gain weight, b) are growing, or c) are being fed for slaughter. Some calves will be put a pre-weaning/preconditioning ration of calf grower grains and forage mix; older calves (usually when weaned) can be fed a grower ration, hay, or if there's good-quality pasture available, then that as well or as a main source of their nutrition and energy.

Not all operations have means or money to feed their calves grain all the time; some continental breeds like Charolais, Limousin and Simmental require such inputs to further increase growth weights and average daily gains so that they can be sold at heavier weights to the feedlot. It also "primes" them for what diet they will be eating at the feedlot prior to slaughter. A lot of British breed cattle, on the other hand, only need a little grain to no grain at all, and only hay and grass to give the calves the weight they need to be backgrounded or stockered before being sent to the feedlot. British breeds have a tendency to put on fat quicker and consequently finish faster than Continentals do, so it's important to limit energy intake in rations for the time they are being on a backgrounding operation.

In a feedlot, cattle are fed according to how much they have to gain before they are deemed finished and sent to slaughter. As mentioned above, British breeds typically take a shorter time to reach finishing weight than a Continental breed would if they were both on the same ration. Most finisher rations are comprised of an 80% grain and 20% forage diet. Depending on where a particular feedlot is located, cattle can be fed a mixed ration of corn and soybeans, barley and corn, just barley, just corn, or even winter wheat, triticale, oats, field peas, or rye. Such rations are not fed whole: the grain is ground up in a feed mill and other nutrients (except animal by-product due to the BSE scare in 2003) and feed (like silage) are added to that ration. The goal of a feedlot producer is to produce gains as quickly and efficiently as possible with feed that contains high energy, high protein, and low fibre.

Cattle should also always have a source of fresh water and mineral mix (preferably loose mineral) available to them at all times.

Cattle Diets and Nutrition

What does the cow's rumen do?

The rumen is a large fermentation vat where bacteria and protozoa thrive and breakdown feeds to obtain nutrients for their purpose. It is the first stomach in the group of four (reticulum, omasum, and abomasum), the rumen is on the left side of the animal and gives the barrel (the belly) of the animal a pear shape.

Cows and Cattle
Cattle Diets and Nutrition

How many stomachs do cattle have?

The basic answer that most people look for from this question is that cattle, a cow, or any other bovine such as a bull, a steer, a heifer, or even a bison or buffalo has FOUR stomachs. However, physiologically speaking, cattle donot have four stomachs; they have four digestive compartmentsinterconnected as a single stomach.

The four digestive compartments in order are:

  1. Reticulum (the hardware stomach, where foreign objects collect that cannot pass through the digestive system; this compartment is also responsible for further breakdown processes from the rumen, and is the compartment where partly digested feed is collected to be regurgitated as cud.)
  2. Rumen (where bacteria and protozoa break down cellulose, hemi-cellulose, lignin and fibre from plant material; this is where the process of fermentation takes place)
  3. Omasum (absorbs water and digestible nutrients)
  4. Abomasum (which would be the true stomach, as it is in humans)

One thing that should be noted is that because the abomasum is considered to be the true stomach (and the only functional stomach compartment when a calf, a newborn bovine, is born), the other three compartments are simply an extension of the esophagus. Thus the primary reason that a bovine only has one stomach and not four. The definition of a stomach is that it is an organ which secretes enzymes, acids and other digestive compounds which enable the ability to break down food to mere molecules. Since a cow does not have four of these types of stomachs, it is safe to say that, physiologically, a cow or any other ruminant only has one stomach with four compartments.

Cattle Diets and Nutrition

Are cows carnivores herbivores or omnivores?


Cattle Diets and Nutrition

Do cows eat potatoes?

Yes. Cull potatoes, or those that are considered waste based on size, grade, quality standard, or discarded due to low market value from over-production, are often fed as a by-product to dairy cows mixed in a Total Mixed Ration (TMR). They cannot be fed as a feed source alone due to the very high starch content which can be detrimental to an animal's health due to potential for the onset of acidosis. Potatoes can also be fed to feedlot beef cattle in a mixed ration of grain, forage, vitamins and minerals.

Please see the related link below for furthe details on feeding cull potatoes to cattle.

Cattle Diets and Nutrition

What is scientific name of bull or cow feces?


Cattle Diets and Nutrition

How much more does a horse eat than a cow?

Horses actually eat, relative to their body size, equal to or 0.5% to 1% less than the amount that cows do.

Horse Diet and Nutrition
Cattle Diets and Nutrition
Grazing and Range/Pasture Management

Do horses eat more grass than cows on a paddock?

I heard they eat pretty much the same amount. But if you have a horse like my Silky, your horse would probably eat more than a cow. And then again my neighbors' horses hardly eat the grass in their pasture, they like to bask in the sun and play more than eat grass. In my option it depends on your horse or cow.

Cattle Diets and Nutrition

Is cow feces alive?

No. However, cow feces, like the feces of all other organisms, contains a certain amount of living bacteria. These bacteria, E. coli for example, are responsible for the decomposition of certain compounds that cannot be digested. Cows do not produce the enzymes to digest cellulose (fiber), a main component of their diet. However, because of the bacteria harbored in the compartments of the stomach, they are able to break apart the tough beta-glucose bonds. An estimated 60% of the dry mass of feces is digestive bacteria. However the bacteria in the feces does not make it alive like other living organisms. Bacteria operate in their own way, and are not Eukaryotic cells that are found in most organisms (except viruses, bacteria and fungi).

Cattle Diets and Nutrition

Why is grain more efficient for humans to eat than for cows?

This is a common misconception from those who oppose the use of livestock for agricultural purposes, stating that it is a "waste" of grain to feed 1 cow for beef than it is to feed several humans with the same amount. They say that it takes 10 (or 9 [some like to use the exaggerated number of 16]) pounds of grain for a "cow" to gain 1 lb of beef (on the hoof, mind you), where several more people can use that 10 lbs of grain and split it amongst each other. To convert that to ready-to-serve beef, that means it took approximately 20 lbs of grain to make 1 lb of edible beef (since we are factoring that the carcass weight is ~50% of the liveweight).

However, most of these folks don't realize there are holes to this whole beef-to-plate efficiency problem. First of all, we humans cannot utilize grain like cows can. We have a much more simpler digestive system that disables us from consuming such coarse plant material (even though grain is not considered a "roughage" by ruminant nutritionists) that cows can literally thrive off of. We are what scientists call monogastrics, being only able to have a single-chambered stomach that is designed to primarily digest protein, carbohydrates (like starch), sugars and fats--such which is found in meat, eggs, dairy products, nuts, and fruits. This clearly indicates that we are omnivores, not herbivores. We do not have the same type of bacteria, protozoa nor fungi that are able to break down cellulose and fibre found in forages and grains in our simple stomachs like cows do in their rumen. Such foods simply pass through without being digested or absorbed. Thus, if we were to live off of grain and/or grass alone like cows commonly do, we'd literally starve ourselves to death. Cows, on the other hand, which are herbivores called ruminants, have a multiple-chambered stomach that naturally and much more efficiently digest such coarse plant material as forages (like hay, grass, and silage) and grain (especially when processed to increase surface area and expose starch granules and break protein matrixes) all thanks to the bacteria, protozoa and fungi present in their rumens. Such microbes break down these otherwise unusuable coarse plant material into something useful that a cow can use for energy, metabolism, reproduction and growth.

In order for us humans to able to utilize and digest these grains, they need to be processed. Processing, in human terms, means that what goes in comes out in two forms: "stuff" we can actually use, and "waste" that we can't use. the "stuff" that comes out of the milling and grinding of grain comes out as flour. This flour cannot be eaten right away, and must be mixed with other ingredients like water and yeast to make bread and other pastries and pasta goods. The waste is dumped in some corner of the mill plant to be thrown away. This waste includes the hull and seed coating of the grain we cannot eat.

That's a heck of a lot of work to do just to "eat" these grains that some of us are claiming are less efficient going through the cow than through our bellies. Approximately, the hull and seed coating that is removed during the milling and grinding process, takes up about 1/3 of the seed. If we were to process 20 lbs of grain that has been considered a "waste" feeding to a cow that has only a 50% carcass weight of its liveweight and use it for ourselves, we would be throwing away 7 lbs of that 20 lbs of grain. That means we're only using 13 lbs of that grain. Sure, that can make quite a few loaves of bread, feeding a whole lot of people, but what about that waste? Well, it can be fed to that cow, and be converted into beef--or even milk. The "garbage" that comes from, in this example, the milling industry, is considered as "by-product." Such by-products were never made to be used as feed for livestock, but if you stop and think about it, it is far better to be "re-using" this "garbage" as something else--in terms of feed--instead of letting it rot and be true waste in a land-fill.

As far as grain alone is concerned, though, even though it is not considered a "natural" feed source by any means (heck, neither is hay nor silage a "natural" feed!), it should be obvious by now that it is not more efficient to feed grain to people than to cows. Even though you can feed more people on a pound of grain than you can to cattle, you are still having to waste much of what is going to be "fed" to people when the cow can utilize it all quite easily.

Agruably, it is also apparent that processing grain to expose its starchy form from the endosperm of a grain kernel or seed is bad for people's health: Feeding more grain to people mean that people are more likely to get sick from it than if they were to consume meat, eggs, dairy along with a high and healthy amount of vegetables and some fruit. The common misconception is that too much meat is bad for your health. In fact, too much grain is more of a health concern than too much meat due to its high carbohydrate content: carbohydrate equates to energy, and when energy intake is above and beyond what someone will use in a day, that energy will get converted into fat (adipose tissue). Too much fat makes a person obese, and also leads to cardiac issues, diabetes (carbohydrates can easily convert into sugar with the right enzyme processes), and other health issues. Current health studies have shown that meat does not contribute to such significant and serious health problems.

Additionally, grain is also a cause for concern for cattle. However, it is not so serious a concern or that much of something to be opposed to when you understand how it's used properly and what it can be used for. Many claim that grain is unhealthy and unnatural for cattle to eat because it causes acidosis. The problem with that statement is three-fold: Grain is in fact healthy for animals that have problems digesting roughage and forage alone, such as very young, very old, underweight, or high-metabolic-rate animals. Grain provides a needed energy (and some protein) source that such animals will not be able to obtain from grass or forage alone, and is an excellent supplement to fall back on when forage is low in energy. Grain is just as natural as hay or silage; grain from cereal crops are just grass seeds. Grass is a natural plant cattle eat on a regular basis, and tamed grasses used in monoculture crops like corn, wheat, barley, oats, triticale, rye and sorghum are fed to cattle in the grain, or grain + plant form. Finally, grain alone does not cause acidosis. Introducing a high-concentrate (i.e., high energy) ration too much too quickly to cattle on a high-forage diet is what induces acidosis. To go further, cattle on a high-forage ration that are supplemented with a low amount of grain will not get acidosis compared to those that gorge themselves on grain or a high-concentrate ration the first day they come off of pasture.

To conclude, it is hoped you can know clearly see why the fact that feeding cows grain is less efficient than feeding grain to humans is false due to differences in utilization based on digestive morphology, utilization of waste products by ruminant animals, and the truths behind the health effects and consequences of feeding grain to both humans and cows.

Cattle Diets and Nutrition

How much do the hereford cows eat?

Average of 2.5% of their body weight.

Cattle Diets and Nutrition

Can cattle eat pumpkins?

Yes. Everything in moderation, of course, but cattle love pumpkin. The original purpose of field pumpkins (which are squash), was stock feed, especially cattle. These varieties like Connecticut Field have quite a bit of fiber in them, making them a tough meal for humans, but great for bovines.

Cattle Diets and Nutrition

Difference between grass and hay?

Grass is a living plant that is rooted to the soil and grows from a seedling to a mature plant that produces seed. It is a herbaceous plant that has its growth points at the soil level and not at the top.

Hay is grass or legumes that are harvested by man, dried by the air and sun, then gathered and stored to be fed to livestock.

Cattle Diets and Nutrition

What is the definition of esophagus in cattle?

The esophagus is an organ in vertebrates which consists of a muscular tube through which food passes from the pharynx to the stomach.

Cattle Diets and Nutrition

Rate of gain in feedlot cattle?

From 1.5 to 3 pounds per day.

Animal Life
Cattle Diets and Nutrition

What does a calf eat?

A calf, or "baby cow," will be consuming milk primarily for 2 to 3 weeks of age. At this age, the calf will start sampling the feed that it is given to eat (if it's raised as a dairy replacement heifer calf or veal calf), or what its mother is eating while still consuming milk, predominantly. By the time it is 3 months old, it is starting to rely more on the feed/forage it is eating (because the rumen will have been fully developed by this time) and consuming less milk (bottle calves are usually weaned by now). For calves still on their dams, they gradually consume more feed/forage and less milk until they are fully weaned.

As far as feed is concerned, that depends on the location, how the calves are raised and what the producer has available to feed them.

Cattle Diets and Nutrition
Grazing and Range/Pasture Management

Why do cows graze?

They're adapted to graze; their mouths, teeth and digestive system are designed to eat and digest grass, not foliage or browse like goats are. Cows are what is called "Roughage Consumers," or, they are adapted to eat grasses that are quite coarse and don't have much nutrient to them. Browsers like goats and deer are called "Selective Consumers" because they are more picky about what they eat, when and where, unlike cows.

Cattle Diets and Nutrition
Grazing and Range/Pasture Management

Can a newborn calf eat grass?

No. Their stomachs aren't well developed to consume grass when they are so young. They begin to sample grasses and other stuff Mom eats when they get around a week old. They are fully on grass and other feedstuffs offered to them by the producer by the time they reach between 6 and 8 months of age.

Cattle Diets and Nutrition

Why do cows eat bark off trees?

Because either they're hungry or are deficient in a specific mineral (i.e., phosphorus). In most cases it's the latter, as cows are primarily grazing animals, not browsers.

Food Science
Cattle Diets and Nutrition

How do you improve food production?

Food is essential for all living organism and with increase in population producing food has become a necessity.

The inputs for food production are both the biotic & abiotic components as natural resource that need to be of optimum quality & quality with effective and efficient utility.

The biotic component include all the bio diversity of flora & fauna in the food web.

The a-biotic components are the soil with micro nutrients,water, atmosphere etc that help in plant food production.

Food production for & by :

1.Plants: Environment management for sustainable & improved quality of soil ,water & ambient climatic conditions.

2.Animals: Environmental management of Natural resources and supply of quality fodder & nutrients.

3.Human: As humans are omnivorous they need food by both animal & crop production for higher yields by scientific methods & research

a. genetic engineering

b. scientific methods for maximum yield with short duration & concentrated inputs.

c Maximum development & utilization of agricultural & animals that contribute to food production as input resources

Farm Crops
Cattle Diets and Nutrition

What is silage making?

Silage making is the process by which green/immature plants are harvested, stored and allowed to ferment for the purpose of feeding the fermented vegetation to livestock. This feed was originally loaded into silos to allow to ferment, but today can also be stored in large sealed plastic bags.

Cattle Diets and Nutrition

What is the length of the large intestine of a cow?

The large intestine is about 5 to 6 times the length of the animal.

Cattle Diets and Nutrition

What is cow feed made of?

Herbage from grass, cereal grains and legumes. Feed will also comprise of by-products from various industries such as ethanol, vegetable oil, sugar, brewing or milling industries, or waste food products such as potatoes, carrots, beets, onions, apples, and many, many other foods that are discarded due to poor grade, low quality, or unideal size to be sold to us humans. Animal by-product such as chicken litter, blood meal, bone meal and fish meal are also fed to cattle, more commonly in the states than in Canada or the U.K. where such feeds are banned and prohibited by federal law.

Cattle Diets and Nutrition

Can people eat mushrooms that grow in cow poop?

Yes you can. they do in fact crow out of cow manure.


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