How to Feed & Manage Beef Cattle

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson introduces you to beef cattle operations and what it entails in terms of feeding and managing the cattle. We'll also cover basic concepts related to bovine biology and reproduction.

Feeding and Managing Beef Cattle

Where's the beef? Well, a lot of it is right here in the U.S. and in a lot of other countries known for raising beef cattle, like Argentina. Beef cattle operations are highly varied, depending on what the producer wants, where they are located, and how many beef cattle they have.

This lesson will give you a brief overview of the factors that must be considered when running a beef cattle operation.

Basic Facilities, Operations, & Equipment

The way beef cattle are raised is dependent upon the types of operations that are run. In some instances, beef cattle are let loose for much of the year into vast expanses of land, then rounded up at certain times of the year in order to be bred, sent to slaughter, or vaccinated.

Other operations do not let their beef cattle roam around the wilderness. Instead, these beef cattle are raised in facilities where literally hundreds and thousands of beef cattle are kept in confined areas, fed specialized meals, carefully monitored for weight and diseases, and so on. These are just two examples of the general types of beef cattle operations that can be run.

Depending on the operation, various facilities and pieces of equipment will be necessary to run the operation. Here are a few examples:

  • Breeding barns
  • Feedlots (areas where the cattle are fed and thus fattened up for market)
  • Fencing
  • Pastures
  • Holding pens
  • Working chutes, which place cattle into single file lines
  • Squeeze chutes, which restrain cattle for medical treatment
  • Livestock scales

Basic Bovine Biology

Cattle are quite unique in the way their body functions, especially with respect to nutrition. Unlike people, cattle are herbivores, or plant eaters. They have a very specialized stomach system that includes four major sections:

  • The rumen, which is by far the largest part of their stomach system
  • The reticulum, which has a honey-comb like appearance
  • The omasum, which looks like a basketball
  • The abomasum, which resembles the human stomach the most

This intricate stomach system is what helps cattle taken in very rough food, like hay, and take in nutrients and energy from that hay. These energy and nutrients are then used to build muscle mass. That muscle mass is what then becomes the steak you eat. In order to build this muscle mass, the cow must be properly fed.

Basic Beef Cattle Nutrition

The exact nutritional requirement of beef cattle is highly dependent on many factors, such as:

  • Sex of the cattle
  • The cattle's weight
  • How and where they are raised (their environment)
  • How quickly the producer wants the cattle to gain weight

For example, calves and yearlings are fed higher amounts of concentrates (grains) in order to improve their weight gain. In general, though, beef cattle are provided with different amounts of nutrients in order to meet the producer's target weight and muscle mass composition, such as lean muscle mass. Beef cattle will be fed various combinations of roughages, like hay and grass. This provides lots of fiber and low to medium amounts of energy for the cow. They will be fed concentrates (grains) such as corn or barley. These provide a lot of energy, little fiber, and a moderate amount of protein. Oilseeds like soybeans or canola meal will be given to provide the cattle with lots of energy and lots of protein.

Depending on all of the factors listed before, the diets of the cattle must provide adequate amounts of minerals as well. That's because inadequate calcium may lead to poor growth, inappropriate levels of magnesium can lead to convulsions, and not enough selenium will cause cattle to have difficulty standing or rising.

Basic Bovine Reproduction

Nutritional factors will also vary based on whether or not the cow is being primed for reproduction, is pregnant, or is lactating (producing milk). In order for us to even have beef cattle in the first place, we must produce calves, the little cow babies!

Beef cattle reproduction is a very complex and important process to any operation. Inappropriate calving rates can seriously hurt a producer's bottom line. In order to ensure quality calves are born, beef cattle operations must consider:

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