Design a Feed Plan for Healthy, Productive Cattle

What and how often you feed your beef cattle impacts the quality of the meat and therefore the price at market. Maintaining healthy, productive cattle requires you to have a solid cattle feed plan in place as well as the right equipment. An effective feed plan will take into account the cattle’s nutritional needs as well as the cost and availability of feed. Use the guide below to start designing a feed plan to keep your cattle healthy and productive.


Cattle Feed Plans: The Basics

All cattle are herbivores who get their nutrition from grass and other forage. These animals are very efficient at extracting all the nutrients they need from what they forage. There are special microorganisms in one of their four stomach chambers that enable cattle to live off of plants that some other animals with single-chamber stomachs cannot digest. That said, cattle, especially beef cattle, need specific nutrients to grow and succeed.

Beef cattle feed plans include different ratios of nutrients to help them adequately develop, such as hay, grain, and free choice minerals. Here are the nutrients that beef cattle need to be healthy:


Cattle get their protein from vegetables and plants. Though hay and other grasses contain protein, the majority of beef cattle protein will come from legumes. The most popular sources of protein for cattle are soybeans, cottonseed meal, and linseed. Some farmers will also use mineral blocks to provide extra protein for growing calves.


The basic minerals that beef cattle need are calcium, potassium, phosphorous, and salt. They also need smaller amounts of iodine, zinc, copper, selenium, and cobalt. The amount of minerals found in hay will depend on the soil’s mineral content, which is why adequate pasture maintenance is an important part of maintaining cattle health. Farmers can also use a mineral block to supplement these minerals.


Beef cattle also need specific vitamins to maintain health. These include vitamins A, D, and E. Cattle that are stressed, like those who have been transported a long distance or those who are recently weaned, will also benefit from a vitamin B supplement to support health.

Maintaining a Good Pasture

Never underestimate the power of a good pasture when developing your cattle feed plan. The better your pasture is, the fewer supplements you will have to provide to your cattle to make sure they are getting the nutrients they need. In fact, pasture grass is rich in vitamins and roughage, which are two important components of a good cattle diet. Not to mention, consumers tend to pay higher prices for grass-fed beef, which adds yet another benefit of pasture feeding.

Here are a few tips for maintaining your pasture to ensure optimal health and nutrition for your cattle:

  • Seed your pasture using an adequate seed mixture that’s recommended for your area and will provide grass of optimal nutritional quality.

  • Know which weeds grow in your area and have a plan for removing them, as certain weeds can be poisonous to cattle.

  • Test the soil in the spring to determine what you may have to add to it for the growing season.

  • Rest at least one pasture in the spring to prevent overgrazing and allow the pasture to grow.

  • Have a plan and schedule in place for manure management to avoid accumulation, which can ruin the grass.

In addition to these pasture management tips, you should also ensure that the pasture area is safe for your cattle. Check fences and gates, repairing them as necessary, to prevent cattle from escaping and getting hurt or sick. You may also want to introduce a guard animal, like a dog or llama, to help keep predators and pests away from your cattle, especially newborn calves.

Factoring Water into Your Feed Plan

Although water is not on most cattle feed plans, it does play an essential role in cattle management. The animals need access to fresh, clean water every day. Cattle will drink anywhere from 3 to 30 gallons of water each day during colder months, and during the warmer seasons, cattle may need to drink up to one gallon of water for every 100 pounds of body weight each day.

Avoid allowing your cattle to drink from fresh streams, as there is a risk of added bacteria. Instead use a water trough, which allows you to have more control over the water consistency and quality. It’s important that you keep the trough clean, because algae can form inside the tank and manure can also make its way into the water. A galvanized steel water trough is a great option — it’s easier to keep clean than troughs made of other materials.

Cattle Feeding Systems

Once you have developed an effective cattle feed plan, you’ll need to have the right cattle feeding systems in place to ensure that your cattle have access to the nutrients they need to stay healthy. A cattle feed trough or slant bar round bale feeder is an excellent option to allow cattle to graze when they need to throughout the day.

You’ll also want to have cattle feeding systems in place to support the healthy growth of calves. A calf creep feeder is the ideal way to provide a continuous free flow of feed to calves. If you purchase a creep feeder with calf pass panels, it will allow the calves to feed while restricting access to larger cows.

Need to find the right cattle feeding systems for your farm? At Farm Ranch Store, we have a variety of feeding systems to meet all of your needs. Take a look at our selection of feeders to find the right system for your farm.