Forage-based rations are fed to cattle before they are transitioned to a high energy ration. 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 and a good source of protein for livestock. 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

Occasionally oils are added to the grains to balance the ration and to make them more palatable. Oils also decrease the dustiness of rations and thus help to reduce respiratory health problems. The oils are also a very concentrated source of energy and may include oilseeds – such as whole canola, flax, sunflower, and feed grade vegetable oil.

By-products for Feeding

Cattle are tremendous up-cyclers able to convert food waste (i.e., culled grocery store produce, French fries, etc.) into nutritious high-protein beef. 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. Distillers’ grains from ethanol production are also used widely. Rations must be carefully formulated and checked often when using these products as a source of energy and protein.

Nutrition and Health

Cattle nutrition and health are intertwined. Even marginal deficiencies in vitamins or nutrients can affect cattle’s resistance to disease. Balanced rations are critical to the health and well-being of beef cattle.