Forage-based rations are fed to cattle before they are put on high grain rations. Forage rations are often in the form of silage, which is made of green forage crops such as barley and corn. To make silage, the entire plant is harvested and then chopped, piled, packed and allowed to ferment. Silage is a preserved high-moisture feed that is formed when plants are stored without air. After the plants are harvested and chopped, they are packed in above-ground pits (which are covered) or in enormous plastic bags. Silage undergoes anaerobic fermentation which preserves the plant’s nutrients and provides consistent quality forage for a long period of time, ie: over the winter or even on a year-round basis.

Common Feeding Grains

Cattle are fed ‘feed’ grade grain that is not intended for human consumption. Either the crop was grown specifically as feed grain or is a variety meant for human consumption, such as malting barley, that did not make the specifications for the human food system. Feed grains such as barley and corn are an excellent source of energy, a good source of protein and a fair source of all minerals except calcium. There are only small differences in the mineral and vitamin content of these different types of grains. These grains are generally processed to some degree before they are fed. Grains have varying degrees of starch and, depending on the type of processing, are digested differently. Rations therefore must be calculated with careful attention to the impact on the animal’s feeding habits.

Fats and Oils

Starter feed rations are high in roughage such as hay. Finishing feed rations are mainly made up of processed grains. Occasionally fats and oils are added to the grains to make them more palatable and appealing. While this addition makes the cattle enjoy the taste of their feed more, the fats and oils also decrease the dustiness of rations and thus help to reduce respiratory health problems. The fats and oils are also a very concentrated source of energy and may include oilseeds - including whole canola seed, flax and sunflower - and feed grade vegetable fat, including vegetable oil.

By-products for Feeding

Leftover feedstuffs from other agricultural industries are used as an alternate or supplementary source of nutrients in cattle feeding. This includes sprouts from malting barley, wheat shorts, bran and millrun from the milling of wheat for flour, and barley milling from pearling barley.

In parts of Manitoba, Ontario and the Maritimes, many cattle are fed by-products from vegetable and potato processing plants. Using these products as a source of protein means the rations must be carefully formulated to meet the animal’s dietary requirements. Distillers grains from ethanol production are also used widely.

Nutrition and Immunity

Cattle nutrition and immunity are closely related. In healthy growing cattle, even marginal deficiencies in vitamins or nutrients can affect their resistance to disease. Balanced feeding rations are critical to the health and well-being of beef cattle.