When raising cattle, one of the most essential jobs is ensuring all the animals are fed with the best food source possible, and these days, there are many options that cattle farmers can choose from. When your livestock needs protein, fibre, vitamins, carbohydrates, and minerals, how will you know what type of food can provide the right amount?
There’s a lot to learn about feeding beef cattle, especially if hundreds of them live on your farm. Luckily, we can tell you everything you need to know about cattle feed.
Continue reading to find out the different types of sustenance for your livestock needs.
Types of Cattle Feed
There are three types of cattle feed:
- Pelleted Feed: The ingredients are milled and formed into small pellets
- Sweet Feed: Fresh grains mixed with pelleted feed
- Block Feed: The ingredients are milled and formed into solid blocks
- Loose Minerals: These minerals can be placed in a mineral feeder or added to the feed
- Block Minerals: The minerals are formed into solid blocks that the cattle can lick
When feeding your beef cattle, create a daily food schedule. That way, you’ll know when and how much food to provide. You can implement various feeding styles depending on the herd size and the amount of food supplied.
Some food delivery and handling methods include the following:
- Feed wagons
- Feed dispensing hoppers
There are also various ways to create your own feeding system, such as developing feedlot fences that group your herd into one convenient feeding space.
You can mix feed with other types of food rations, such as chopped forage or silage. You can organize your feeding schedule by dividing your cattle into groups to ensure you have enough feed to go around.
Remember, specific foods, such as grains, are high in carbohydrates but don’t always provide enough protein. This is important, especially if the forage quality is low. That’s why you should include high-protein supplements, such as soybean meal, into the feed to provide a balanced diet. This goes for minerals and vitamins as well.
Most of the feed you provide to your beef cattle should be forage. If you have enough forage available, your cattle can be maintained for longer periods if there’s a supplemental source of minerals, such as salt.
If you’re using forage and pasture when feeding cattle, always test the soil and water as often as possible to ensure the plants have a proper growing medium. In addition, keep an eye on the forage’s overall condition and maturity. The last thing you want is to feed your beef cattle forage that hasn’t properly grown yet.
If the forage quality drops due to environmental factors, such as changing seasons, supplemental feed should be provided to keep up with the cattle’s nutrition level. Feeding blocks are a viable option to feed cattle if you need to supplement forage deficiencies. Feeding blocks are also an excellent source of salt and minerals, which are an essential part of a herd’s diet.
Grain is the best type of feed for growing cattle; it fattens them up and gets them growing faster. Many livestock farmers use grain supplements during the winter for cattle who don’t have access to enough grazing pastures or hay. Grain supplements are also a good alternative if you ever experience a drought or don’t have enough pasture growth.
As a rule, you should avoid getting your cattle too reliant on grain, as it can deter them from their other nutrient requirements.
Hay provides many nutrients to cattle diets. We recommend picking the hay at the height of its nutrient richness. Avoid dry hay at all costs. All hay feed should be cured and stored away to prevent rot.
Hay falls under several categories, but the best types of hay include:
- Grass hay
- Mixed hay
- Cereal grain straw
Alfalfa hay is a popular choice amongst many livestock farmers, as it’s a high source of calcium and phosphorus. Try mixing alfalfa hay and grass hay together to get a balanced protein diet. The combination can produce higher protein levels for your cattle.
Alfalfa hay is also a go-to feed option for dairy cattle, but too much of it can cause bloating in beef cattle, which is why a mixture of hay types can benefit your cow’s digestive system. Legume hay is another rich source if you’re exclusively looking for hay types to boost protein.
Most animals require a healthy amount of minerals and salt in their diets. Mineral supplements containing salt, calcium, phosphorus, and trace minerals are necessary when feeding cattle. While mineral supplements should be offered to your cattle freely, it’s integral that you monitor their consumption. The forage quality and the body conditions of a herd can factor into their mineral intake. Therefore, the cattle’s mineral requirements should be followed closely.
For example, many cows require minerals with higher levels of magnesium before they can chow down on a fresh grass pasture. A magnesium deficiency can cause Grass Tetany, which can be fatal for your cows. Always ensure your cattle aren’t choosing between high magnesium minerals and other minerals by paying attention to their mineral feed rate.
When monitoring your cattle’s feed, there are a few additional considerations to keep in mind.
Keep Your Cattle Hydrated
Varying factors can determine how much water your beef cattle require on a day-to-day basis. For starters, the environment can play a role in how much water your cows need. Hotter weather will increase your cattle’s need for hydration, while cooler weather may decrease their thirst, depending on their feed intake.
The cattle’s diet, age, body weight, and level of production will also determine how much water they need. If not enough water is provided to your cattle, their daily food consumption will likely decrease, which can impact their weight gain. This may be counterproductive as you want your cattle to grow and increase their weight and size.
The process of “creep feeding” refers to the feed that’s provided to young calves in an enclosed area that ensures adult cows don’t consume their food. During creep feeding, livestock farmers will supplement milk from the mother cow and fresh pasture. Creep feeders can be placed in smaller areas where many of the cows congregate. The most ideal spots would be near a water trough or by mineral feeders. Creep feeding can be an advantageous method, as it can assist with better structural development and weaning weights in calves.
Specific concentrates, such as corn, oats, barley, wheat, wheat bran, and grain sorghum, can provide high nutritional value and low fibre. These concentrates are rich in carbohydrates, which is good for your cattle. The only issue is that most concentrates come at a higher price than traditional forages.
While concentrates can work as a supplement, it’s important to consider your cattle’s needs before implementing them into their diet. The last thing you want is to take care of a herd with major digestive issues.
Protein, Fat, and Fibre Percentage
Animals are like people, specifically when it comes to eating. The more feed a cow has, the bigger it will get. That’s why cattle farmers must maintain the nutritional values of their livestock. Each type of cattle feed has a different percentage of protein, fat, and fibre. Always ensure you’re providing your cattle with feed that has the right amount of protein, fat, and fibre if you want them to grow to a specific size and weight.
Grain and Potential Digestive Problems
When introducing grain, slowly include it in feed rations, especially if your cattle have primarily lived off forage. The slow integration will ensure that your cows properly adapt to the new food source. Try limiting it to a few pounds per cow every day and increasing the amount within four or five days of each added grain size.
When cows overeat too much grain, it can cause digestive issues, such as rumen acidosis. The disease can negatively affect your cattle and cause many problems, including lethargy, diarrhea, weight loss, and increased respiratory and heart rate.
Gradually introducing grain can provide all cows an equal opportunity to get their share of feed. If you stop feeding your cattle grains for a long period before starting up again, you should take a similar approach and include it gradually into their diet.
It’s paramount that you feed your cattle the proper amount and develop an effective feeding schedule. Always thoroughly research what type of feed you’re providing them and what effects can positively or negatively impact their growth. Raising cattle is no easy game. That’s why you should contact our knowledgeable team at Real Industries Ltd. for more information and tips on how to feed your cattle.