If you raise cattle or would like to, it is important to understand exactly what cattle feed is. The obvious choice is to let them graze. However, given our bizarre weather of late, this may not always be possible. Short-term drought is inevitable in any location, and can usually be taken in stride. If your cattle are subjected to a drought for any length of time, you will have to supplement pasture grass with another form of cattle feed.
If you are inundated with torrential downpours and flooding, turning all and sundry to mud, you will have to use another form of cattle feed. Varieties of cattle feed can be used as additional supplements for grass fed cattle, even when the weather cooperates. Environmental factors can affect the amount of cattle feed necessary, as well. For example, cattle can need up to 30% more feed in cold temperatures. Conversely, they can need up to 30% less during hot weather.
Cattle feed should be a combination of roughage, grain and silage. Roughage is grass hay, straw or grain hulls. As cattle feed, roughage is high in fiber but low in energy. The amount of protein available in roughage depends greatly upon the type. Generally, roughage is moderately low in protein. However, as the cow digests this cattle feed, it produces volatile fatty acids, which are absorbed by the stomach and they become a major source of energy.
Grains can be corn, oats or barley, for example. Grain is low in fiber and protein. However, it is high in energy. One pound of grain as cattle feed can replace two pounds of alfalfa or three pounds of grass hay. Corn is also low in calcium and high in phosphorous. Cattle feed containing high levels of corn, should be supplemented with calcium, such as limestone. Cattle feed that is low in protein can be utilized quite efficiently by cattle. Because they are ruminants, their digestive system produces amino acids that increase the efficacy of low protein cattle feed, thereby increasing the usable protein. Silage is any green plant or cattle feed that is compacted and then covered or enclosed until it is fermented. Silage can also be created in a pit that is dug into the ground and covered with a tarp. The moisture in the green fodder helps to develop the bacteria that produce lactic acid.
Cattle love silage and it is a great method of storing cattle feed for use when pasturing is not available. It is an economical alternative to commercial cattle feed. You can see silage being formed in fields of round hay bales encased in black plastic. Some farmers add molasses to their silage to increase the formation of lactic acid. Originally, farmers would store their fermenting green fodder in silos, hence the name. Wrapping round bales in plastic is fast becoming the preferred method of creating fermented cattle feed.
Please note that if you change your herds' source of cattle feed, it will take about two weeks for their digestive systems to adjust. During this time, do not be surprised if your cattle look thin. This will pass. Your local extension office can give you more information.