Cows eat grass and hay. On a dry matter basis a cow will eat 4 to 5 tons of forage per year. As long as there is pasture for the cows to eat, it is most economical to let them graze. When cattle are on grass the amount of forage consumed will determine how well they will perform, usually expressed in average daily gain (ADG). Depending on forage conditions, growing beef cattle will consume approximately 2.5% of their body weight each day. Approximately 8 to 10 pounds of roughage are required for every pound of gain.
If possible, the hay should be 8% crude protein or higher. It is a good idea to test the protein value of your hay through local laboratories.
Cows are ruminant, meaning they ferment their feed before digesting it in the stomach and intestines. The rumen in a mature cow is a 42-gallon drum which has feed, water and bacteria in it. The bacteria break down the fiber and help the cow get energy from the fiber. Bacteria are continually washed out of the rumen and digested in the intestines.
The bacteria will provide much of the protein the cow needs. There are literally billions of tiny bacteria in the rumen. When we feed a cow, we're really feeding the bacteria so that they can do their job.
If cattle are confined, all nutrients required for growth and production must be supplied. Normally, growing cattle weighing more than 700 pounds will need to receive rations relatively high in concentrates to gain faster. The concentrate should be processed for maximum benefit to the animal. Depending on what they're getting from the forage, supplements containing vitamins, minerals and protein are also recommended.
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