What Do Beef Cows Eat?

What Do Beef Cows Eat?

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The first thing that comes to mind when you think about cow food is probably grass. Even though grass takes up almost half of the cow’s nutrition, they actually need much more than just grass to remain healthy. What do cows eat, other than grass?

Beef cows eat roughages, grains, oil-seed, and co-products.

In order to stay healthy, beef cows need a wide variety of food. From birth, beef cows are raised on pasture during the first 7 to 9 months. For pastured animals, the grass is usually the forage that composes the majority of their diet. Cattle reared in feedlots are fed hay supplemented with grass, soy, and other ingredients, in order to increase the energy density of the feed.

What do you feed a beef cow?

To make livestock food, you need ingredients that are called feedstuffs. The feedstuffs that cattle eat consists of roughages, grains, oil-seed, and co-products. 

Roughages are coarse, indigestible ingredients that are used to provide bulk to the diet and they help promote normal digestion. Commonly used roughages are hay, sillage, and grass. Silage is a crop that has been stored in a humid, succulent condition by partial fermentation in a sealed container above or below ground.

Roughages are essentially filler in the cattle’s diet. They are high in fiber but low in energy.

Grains, on the other hand, are higher in energy but lower in fiber. Grains that are commonly fed to cattle are corn, milo, barley, and oats. Cows need much less grain in their diet than roughages. The older cows get, the more they are fed with grain, because they gain more weight that way, making them more expensive on the market.

Oil-seeds are another important part of cattle’s diet. They provide energy, proteins, and fiber. Some oil-seeds that are used are soybeans and canola meat.

Most co-products that are used for cattle feed are in fact leftover ingredients from food production for humans. The most common co-products include distiller grains, sweet corn cannery’s waste, bakery waste, grain screenings, and apple pomace. 

What is the best meat to feed cows?

Cows are technically herbivores. Despite that, they do sometimes eat bones, eggs, and small animals if humans put that in their food. Their digestive system is not designed to consume animals, but grass and hay. You can feed a cow with meat and it will eat it, but it is not really the best choice of food for healthy cows. 

To keep your cows healthy, feed them with a mix of grains, grass, oil-seed, and other vegetarian food scraps. 

What fruits and vegetables can cows eat?

When feeding cows with vegetables, it is a good idea to give them root vegetables, for example, potatoes or carrots. They are safer than other vegetables because the probability of contamination with pesticides is lower. 

Carrots contain carotene which can help increase the quality of milk and its nutritional value. Carrots and potatoes provide fat-soluble antioxidants in butter oil and they also help to control the β-carotene level in the cow’s blood.

There is also 9.9% protein and 9.7% fiber in these vegetables. Before feeding your cattle carrots, make sure you wash and store them for two weeks to avoid scouring which is caused by eating too many fresh carrots at the same time. 

In order to prevent choking, feed the carrots to your cows by hand. Choking is a serious cause of death encountered in cattle. The highest amount of carrots that you can feed your cow is 35 pounds a day. You should avoid feeding your cows only carrots.

You can also feed cows pumpkins, as they have a balance of fiber and high water content which helps them be more easily digestible. They provide a good amount of protein, especially to cows that are mainly fed with dry hay. Pumpkins have a lot of Vitamin A and E, and folate which helps support healthy vision and bone growth. 

Most cows love watermelon. It provides cows with nutrients such as Vitamins A, B6, C, and Potassium. Because of its high water content, it helps get more fluids to the cow, which is especially important during the summer. 

Bananas not only contain large amounts of vitamin B12, B6, and minerals,  such as potassium and magnesium, but it also provides a boost to the immune system of the calves. They can eat them fresh, green, dehydrated, with or without the peel.

Apples are rich in vitamin B-6, thiamin, riboflavin, and potassium. Too many apples can cause bloating, so make sure to regulate how much apples your cow eats.

Mangoes are high in sugar and can help provide extra energy when mixed in cattle feed. They do not contain a lot of protein so it is important to feed cows a balanced diet. Cows can eat mangoes with or without the peel and they can even eat mango seeds. 

Cows love oranges and they are rich in vitamins and nutrients. Feeding cows with oranges help them eat more fiber and also supports proper antimicrobial growth in their digestive tract.

Cows become very sick if they eat overripe kiwis, but if you make sure that kiwis are not overripe, your cow will get many benefits from eating them. Kiwi naturally has Vitamin K, C, E, Potassium, and folate which support healthy growth and development in animals.  

Can cows survive on grass alone?

Even though cow’s nutrition consists of about 50% grass, they can’t rely only on it to survive. It made sense to feed a cow only with grass in the past because they were on small family farms, and while only eating grass, they could still produce enough milk for the family. 

Nowadays, cows make about 10 gallons of milk a day and they would lose a tremendous amount of weight if they were to only eat grass. Cows diet should consist of 50% forage and 50% grain. Forage mostly consists of plant material that is fed as hay or fermented forage. That way, farmers can feed cows grass, vegetables, and corn-based forage all year long. 

Some of the most common concentrates fed are corn, soybeans, cottonseeds, citrus pulp, almond, and soy hulls. 

What should you not feed cows?

There are a lot of foods that you wouldn’t expect cows can’t eat. Here are some things that you should look out for, whether it is food that you wouldn’t expect is not good for cows or something that they find alone in nature.  


Even though you would think a cow would have a hard time finding algae, they are actually commonly found in stagnant, slow-moving water when temperatures are high. They are very poisonous for cows. Symptoms of algae poisoning resemble an allergic reaction and they develop quite rapidly. Smaller amounts of poison cause weakness and staggering, followed by recovery. Other symptoms are inflammation of the muzzle, the skin of the ear, the udder, or other parts of the body. 

Blister Beetles

Blister Beetles contain cantharidin, a toxic substance that they use against predators. Cantharidin can injure and kill cows even if only a small amount is ingested. Cows find blister beetles in infested alfalfa hay. To reduce the likelihood of poisoning, inspect individual alfalfa flakes. Symptoms of cantharidin poisoning are signs of severe shock, depression, diarrhea, high temperature, dehydration, and increased pulse. 

Irish potato plants 

Irish potato plant causes solanine poisoning. Symptoms are dilated pupils, slow heart rate, and showing prostration. If a cow has eaten a lot of Irish potato plants, it will die, but if the portion was small, it will likely recover in a few days. 

Cabbage, spinach, sukuma wiki, broccoli, cauliflower

The main toxins in cabbage, spinach, sukuma wiki, broccoli, and cauliflower are a group of chemicals called glycosinolates. They interfere with the utilization of iodine in ruminants and cause reduced growth rate and milk yield. They also have another toxin that is transformed by rumen micro-organisms into another toxin that, once absorbed into the blood, causes bursting of red blood cells, a condition knows as hemolysis. The symptoms are blood loss, resulting in reddish-brown urine and pale mucous membrane. 

Grain overload

When cows eat large amounts of grains, carbohydrates are released in the rumen and fermented instead of normally digested. That is called grain overload, and when it happens, lactic acid is produced, which results in a slowing of the gut, dehydration, and sometimes even death. Symptoms of grain overload are depression, diarrhea, lying down, dehydration, bloating of the left side of the abdomen, staggering gait, and sawhorse stance.

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