Basic Overview of Cattle Diet and Nutrition

When it comes to owning cattle, making sure their health stays in top shape is a priority. Here is a basic overview of cattle diet and nutrition so your livestock can live out the best quality of life possible.

Ruminant Digestive System

Cattle are considered ruminant animals, which means they have a complex digestive system that’s broken into a four-chambered stomach. The chambers are called the reticulum, rumen, omasum, and abomasum. These chambers play a significant role in digestion as microorganisms colonize the reticulum and rumen—collectively known as the reticulo-rumen—and allow cattle to digest feedstuffs high in fiber. Balancing the requirements of rumen microorganisms will help with animal performance.

Basic Cattle Dietary Needs

Understanding the basic overview of cattle diet and nutrition will help you better grasp livestock feeding quality and nutrients. Because of their complex digestive systems, knowing the nutrients they need will improve their internal microorganism environment.


Water accounts for between 50 to 80 percent of an animal’s live weight and is essential for livestock nutrients. Insufficient water intake can reduce livestock performance faster and more dramatically than other nutrient deficiencies. Daily access to palatable water will guarantee daily quality and quantity of milk production. Consider air and water temperature, humidity, moisture content, cattle type, and water quality for their hydration needs.

Protein & Energy

Protein is required for growth, lactation, maintenance, and reproduction. It’s a significant component of the nervous system and connective and muscle tissues. Protein requirements depend on the cattle’s growth rate, age, pregnancy, and lactation status. Increased protein requirements include young, growing cattle, lactation, or late pregnancy.

Energy helps with necessary maintenance and supports lactation, growth, and reproduction. It also supports digestion, core body functions, and activity requirements. Because energy is the largest nutritional requirement for cattle, it also covers the largest portion of feed costs.

Minerals & Vitamins

Cattle need at least 17 minerals, divided into two groups called macrominerals and microminerals. Macrominerals, such as sodium, potassium, sulfur, and calcium, come in large amounts for bodily functions. Microminerals, such as copper, iron, iodine, and zinc, come in smaller quantities. Cattle need vitamin support for vital metabolic processes. Vitamins such as A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble, getting stored in the liver and fat tissue, preventing deficiencies.

Feeding Sources and Quality

Cattle require a wide variety of feeding methods. The different feeds offer various benefits for supplying necessary nutrients. Below are descriptions of some feed sources.

  • Forages have high fiber, low energy, and varying protein. They include hay, grass, silage, and greenfeed.
  • Oilseeds feature high protein, energy, and fat, with varying fiber content. They include soybeans and canola meal.
  • Grains provide high energy, low fiber, and moderate to high protein. They include corn, barley, wheat, and oats.
  • By-products offer varied nutrient content and high moisture.

Cattle can find their food resources through grazing and custom-made formulations. Choosing an appropriate feeder will also save on hay waste and reduce bacterial growth. As such, guaranteeing a proper diet will allow for healthier cattle.

Keeping your cattle in top shape matters for the longevity of your farm. By providing proper nutrients for your cattle’s digestion, your cattle will help keep your farm afloat.

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Written by Emma Radebaugh

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