Feeding beef cattle is part science and part art. Cattle farmers tend to have their own beliefs about healthy feed for beef cattle, and it seems every few years or so new research is produced advocating a specific system of feed. Currently, the most common and healthiest options include Grain supplements which can get cattle growing quickly and can help cattle get fat. In fact, many farmers feed grains to growing cattle to reduce costs and get cattle ready sooner. Grain supplements are also a good solution for winters and for cattle that lack access to high-quality hay and grazing pastures. However, it’s important not to get cattle too reliant on supplements, as this will discourage them from more nutritionally diverse pastures and foraging.

Hay can provide every important nutrient for cattle, but it has to be picked at the height of its nutrient richness — that is, before it becomes too dry. To be a good food source for cattle, hay must also be carefully cured and stored to prevent rot and damage. There are many hay varieties that offer good nutrition. Alfalfa hay, for example, has more calcium and phosphorus than grass hay, but some grass hay can be high in proteins. Most experts recommend mixing alfalfa with grass hay, rather than relying exclusively on alfalfa hay. Alfalfa hay is often recommended for dairy cattle, but may not be a good fit for beef cattle, since it can lead to bloat. Legume hay is another nutritious option for cattle, since it’s high in protein.

Forage and pasture can provide cattle with all the nutrients they need (unless the soil is depleted or the season is too early for rich grass growth). Pasture is also the most cost-effective solution for cattle feed. If you hope to feed your cattle with forage and pasture, it’s important to test soil fertility and to maintain good watering to ensure plants are at their best nutritional density. You’ll also want to keep an eye on the types of plants available, and monitor their maturity and their overall condition. Concentrates, such as oats, corn, wheat, barley, grain sorghum, wheat bran and liquid supplements are high in nutritional value and low in fiber. They have plenty of carbohydrates, but also come with a higher price tag than forages. Concentrates can be great as a supplement, but carefully consider cattle needs and weights when offering this feed to prevent digestion issues.

Feeding Cows Fruits, Vegetables & Other Produce

Some of us humans have a hard time getting in our required amounts of fruits and veggies, cows on the other hand, not so much. It seems like they love to eat healthy, or maybe they just love to eat in general! If you ask me, I think they just love to eat in general and so do I!

Fruits and vegetables like apples, oranges, bananas, watermelon rinds, potatoes and others of the sort are just a few of the foods that cows love to eat. 

This can actually vary from cow to cow though. I have a few cows that scarf up whatever gets put in front of them and few that turn their noses up to certain foods.  Most cows need to be slowly introduced to these new foods. If you just throw out new fruits and vegetables at them, most likely they won’t have a taste for it. Try mixing it in with other feed to slowly incorporate it to their taste buds. 

Cows that eat an entire apple or banana right out of your hand more than likely did not do that the first time around. It’s just like trying to get a kid to eat new things, if you put a carrot in front them, good luck! But if you mix it in with whatever you cook, they won’t even notice it.

Over time, these foods become more and more palatable to cows. There are a few things to watch out for though.

Introducing new foods to cattle can cause bloating, especially if you feed too much of it. If you have cows that have never eaten these kinds of foods before, let them get accustomed to them over time.

Avoid feeding large, whole fruits or vegetables since there is a chance for them to choke on it. If you think the food is too large, cut it up before feeding, especially if your cows have gotten to where they love those foods.

Effects On The Taste Of Milk

If you have dairy cattle, you may be wondering if feeding fruits and vegetables to your dairy cows will have an effect on the taste of their milk. 

Yes, the flavor of the food makes its way to the milk within a few minutes. And while it can have an effect on the taste, the flavors of the fruit only have an effect on their milk for a few short hours. 

Whether you plan to incorporate produce as a portion of a dairy cows diet, be sure they are getting consistent amounts of food and nutrients so their milk production remains healthy. This is especially important during the reproduction cycle of dairy cattle.

The taste of the milk should be fine as long as you are not over feeding these kinds of foods. In my opinion, it is best to keep the majority of the cow’s diet to what they naturally consume while mixing in other foods rationally. I certainly am not an expert in dairy cattle since I have never owned any myself, so the effect on the taste of the milk could be something that might be interesting to experiment with.

Foods You Shouldn’t Feed

Due to the nature of the cow’s stomach and digestive system, they can handle many of the foods that humans wouldn’t think about eating after it expires. 

The majority of the produce that would be obtained from a grocery store as mentioned above would be safe for cattle, even after it has an expired shelf life. Expired foods should be fed in a timely manner and not left to spoil completely before feeding. A few days to a week after expiration is a good rule of thumb.

While most of these foods are not harmful to cows, there are certain plant species that are. Here is a list of different plants that are said to be poisonous to cattle:

  • Lupine
  • Death camas
  • Nightshades
  • Poison hemlock
  • Water hemlock
  • Larkspurs (tall and low)

Cost Effectiveness

I wouldn’t advise going grocery shopping for your cattle to pick up fresh produce, although there may be some ways to save money here.

If you’re like me, feeding hay all winter gets expensive. One way I have driven down costs is by cutting my own hay towards the end of the summer. If you are unable to do this, partnering with some local grocery stores and food recycling services can help.

Roughly 30% to 40% of the food produced in the United States goes to waste. The amount of that food that can be reused for livestock is unknown, but I imagine it is a lot. Just getting your hands on a small portion of that amount can be huge is cost savings.

Contact your local grocery store chains, farmers markets and food providers to see whether or not they participate in donating leftover foods that would otherwise get thrown away.

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