Alternative Feeds for Cattle

Feed represents the largest single production expense for cattle operations. There are many different feedstuffs that can be included in rations for cattle, and there is nothing special about particular ingredients. What matters is the nutrients they provide. While beef producers rely heavily upon forages for the basis of a feeding program, forages often must be supplemented with energy or protein to meet the nutritional needs of cattle.

Many alternative and by-product feeds are now available, often at a fairly low cost, to provide supplemental nutrition.

Nutrients for Animal Nutrition

Beef cattle need many nutrients each day. However, the focus here will be on energy and protein. Energy values for a feed can be expressed in many different ways, but this publication will use TDN (Total Digestible Nutrients). Protein values of feeds are likewise expressed using various terms, but this publication uses Crude Protein (CP).

Animals cannot use the nutrients in a feed if they don’t eat it. Consequently, the amount of feed consumed is very important. Factors that inhibit the level of voluntary feed intake, or Dry Matter Intake (DMI), are harmful to production. There is no single measure of a feed that tells you how much feed will be consumed, but there are characteristics of certain feeds that reduce voluntary intake by animals.

Ruminant animals, such as goat and cattle, require fiber to maintain long-term digestive health and function. Pasture, hays, silages, and some by-product feeds have a high fiber level, but it is low in most grains. Normally, an animal will eat feed until it is full, and fiber is the component of a feed that fills it up, so fiber level relates directly to DMI.

Certain feeds may have mineral deficiencies or imbalances; however, these can quite easily be overcome with proper supplementation. Therefore, this publication will concentrate on energy (TDN), protein (CP), and intake as the noneconomic factors to be considered.

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