Skip to main content
HerdX line branding

Feeding cattle is part science and part art. As a cattle breeder, you will have realized that selecting from the various feedstuffs available for feeding and developing bulls can be challenging.

The situation is not helped by the often conflicting advice from the feed industry, the popular press, and cattlemen about feedstuffs or their ingredients. Hence, questions continue to be raised about how specific feeds should be utilized, the anti-quality components of certain feeds, and the best mineral program to settle for.

But what is the best feed mix for bulls? Read on to find out if there is a precise answer to this intriguing question.

Jump Links

Most Ideal Feed Options for Bulls

Cattle rearers tend to have their own beliefs about healthy feed, and there is a tendency for new research prescribing a particular system of feed to pop up now and again. Presently, the most widely used and healthiest feed options are:


Hay can be an important source of nutrients for cattle, but it must be used when its nutrient richness is at its peak before it becomes too dry. If you want to make hay a sustainable food source for your cattle, then be sure to carefully cure and store it to guard against rot and damage. Many varieties of hay are nutritionally rich and can serve diverse purposes.

For example, alfalfa hay contains higher levels of phosphorus and calcium than grass hay, though some grass hay is rich in proteins. Most experts recommend a mixture of alfalfa and grass hay rather than depending solely on the former. Though alfalfa hay is often recommended for dairy cattle, there may be better options for beef cattle since it can cause bloating. Because of its high protein content, legume hay is another nutritious cattle option.

Pasture and Forage

Forage and pasture can provide all the nutrients cattle need, assuming the soil is not depleted or early enough in the season to produce rich grass. Testing for soil fertility and good watering are important ways of ensuring that plants obtain their best nutritional density. Also essential is the need to always take note of the types of plants available and monitor their maturity and overall condition. Pasture is considered the most cost-effective solution for cattle feed.

Grain Supplements

Grain supplements are ideal for those who desire rapid growth and more fat for their cattle at reduced costs. They are also good to use during winter and drought when cattle cannot access high-quality hay, grazing pastures, and other unavailable pasture. However, it is important not to make your herd too reliant on these supplements since it will discourage them from seeking more nutritionally diverse pastures and foraging.


Concentrates are characterized by high nutritional value and low fiber. They contain lots of carbohydrates and are typically more costly than forages. Though concentrates can be a great supplement, care should be taken to consider cattle needs and weight when using them to prevent digestion problems. Examples include corn, oats, wheat, wheat bran, sorghum, barley, and liquid supplements.

Bull Diet

No single diet or feed mix will satisfy the nutritional requirements of all bulls. Rather, requirements are determined by factors such as bull age, frame, body condition, desired growth and weight gain rates, environment, and the costs of the important nutrients (energy, protein, minerals, and vitamins). Below are the dietary requirements for each bull type:


For younger bulls, the focus should be on quality instead of quantity. Higher protein levels are required in younger bulls’ diets to help their growing muscles. Protein feeds may include oilseed meals or selected co-products such as soybean meal, corn gluten feed, cottonseed meal, or dried distillers grains. The use of urea in formulated diets or pre-formulated protein supplements can be an economical nitrogen source (provided sufficient energy levels are part of the diet).

Similarly, medium to good-quality forages can provide the roughage needed to ensure the desired growth. The digestible protein in good quality forages can help reduce feed costs, thereby preventing the need to include high pricey protein concentrates in the diet.

Also, feedstuffs should have enough energy concentrations to support the desired level of growth. In most instances, energy-dense feedstuffs will include some types of cereal grains or co-products, for example, oats, corn, corn gluten feed, and dried distillers’ grains. Fiber-based energy-giving co-products such as citrus pulp, soybean hulls, and wheat middlings are also necessary. Avoid self-feeding any feed without putting adequate management practices in place or having knowledge of bull feed intake patterns. Cattle have been reported to consume more soybean hulls than necessary while self-feeding, potentially resulting in bloat problems and likely death.

Bulls Meant for Breeding

Studies suggest that young bulls meant for breeding require lots of protein. In one such study, 70%, 100%, and 130% recommended protein were given to groups of bull calves between the ages of six and 25 weeks. The group that received 130% protein reached puberty about one month earlier and produced 20% to 30% more sperm than the 70% group. Bulls also require a higher energy intake during the breeding period.

Close-up of Stud Beef bull

Show Bulls

The diet for show bulls is similar to any other bull, steer, or heifer. Adding protein and fat should be at your discretion (provided you know). You can add more grains to the diet of a bull about to appear in a show; in the same manner, you would add more grains to a steer’s diet before taking him to the market.

If you intend to breed the bull after the show, don’t overfeed him. Ideally, when a bull is being bred, it should have an athletic build rather than excess fat. Overfeeding can lead to a higher risk of liver abscesses, laminitis, rumenitis, poor semen quality, and other health problems.

What Quantity of Food Can Bulls Eat in a Day?

Daily food intake depends on various factors, such as weight, forage quality, and stage of growth or production. But generally speaking, a daily diet for adult bulls should be such that they consume around 2% of their body weight on a dry matter basis to maintain their weight.

What’s the Weight of a Bull?

It is important always to know the weight of your bulls since it will help you determine how to feed them and what their feeding will cost. On average, fully-grown bulls should weigh between 1,700 and 2,400 pounds, excluding miniature cattle breeds.

A 1,700-pound bull will require a daily intake of 33 pounds of dry matter, which is 7% protein and 46% total digestible nutrients (TDN). A 2,000-pound mature bull will need a daily intake of 37 pounds of dry matter, which is 7% protein and 46% TDN.

Lastly, a bull that weighs 2,300 pounds will require a daily intake of around 45 pounds of dry matter consisting of 7% protein and 46% TDN. If the bulls’ body condition has depreciated, a couple of extra pounds in feed weight can be added, while the TDN can be increased to 50% to help them gain weight. You can also feed them better-quality hay.

The Whole Cottonseed and Gossypol Problem

Whole cottonseed may be the one feed resource that should be utilized carefully, especially for growing bulls. This is because it contains a significantly higher level of free gossypol than cotton meals or hulls. Gossypol is a naturally occurring and potentially toxic substance found in the pigment glands of cottonseed. Worries about feeding gossypol-containing products to bulls surfaced upon the discovery by Chinese researchers that gossypol is a potent human male contraceptive.

Gossypol appears to cause more damage to the reproductive ability of young males near puberty than to mature, older male bulls. Studies where the reproductive capacity of bulls has been negatively impacted, have involved feeding cottonseed products at high levels and/or for long periods. Hence, whole cottonseed should be limited to 10% or less of the diet for young bulls.

For mature bulls, whole cottonseed may be included in their feed for a greater part of the year. An acceptable recommendation is to stop feeding bulls whole cottonseed at least 90 days before the breeding season commences to ensure the turning over of sperm in the testes. This 90-day window offers sufficient time for the metabolization of gossypol so that sperm can be produced without the potential negative effects of gossypol.

In many production systems, however, the cows are supplemented with whole cottonseed during the breeding season, meaning that bulls are exposed to the effects of gossypol. The level of exposure will be determined by the degree of whole cotton seed supplementation and the potential level of gossypol that the bulls may have consumed.

Organic or Inorganic Minerals?

Both organic and inorganic supplements can be effective mineral sources for bull development. Organic or not, the focus should be on using well-balanced mineral and vitamin supplements to meet bulls’ nutritional needs. Organic minerals that may yield the greatest benefits include zinc, copper, and selenium. It has been reported that bulls fed organic zinc exhibited increased fertility levels.

However, increased concentrations of inorganic zinc were equally effective as those from organic sources regarding fertility. Also, the dietary recommendation of 30 ppm may need to be higher to be beneficial. Selenium also affects sperm quality, viability, and overall reproductive health.

Using organic minerals for bull production throughout the year is unnecessary. Similar to the overall conditioning period, the utilization of organic minerals should be restricted to the development of yearling bulls and 60-90 days before the initiation of the breeding season to allow for the turnover of sperm that any transient mineral problems may have impacted.

Organic mineral supplementation can be continued into the breeding season if the cow herd is supplemented with organic mineral sources and if it is assumed that the bull will consume the minerals. Apart from development, conditioning, or early breeding, there may be little need to use organic minerals.

The important thing is to ensure that bulls have the same mineral supplementation program enjoyed by any productive member of the beef herd. It will be poor management practice to ignore a bull’s mineral needs throughout the other 305-275 days of the year because of the possible longevity problems it can cause the affected bulls.

Final Thoughts

A single or best feed mix that will grow, develop, or maintain bulls does not exist. Rather, feeding requirements are based on many factors such as bull age, frame, body condition, desired growth and weight gain rates, environment, and the costs of important nutrients such as energy, protein, vitamins, and minerals. Partner with a nutritionist if you are still determining the nutrient requirements of your bulls.

The key is to have a professionally approved feeding or nutrition program. A sufficient quantity of high-quality different kinds of feedstock will help you meet the nutritional requirements of your bull livestock. Critical evaluation of all nutritional supplements should be based on the quantity and quality of nutrients supplied, the cost of supplying such nutrients, and the suitability of the supplement concerning the total nutritional program

Bull Feed FAQs

How Much Grain Should You Feed A Bull?

Feeding the bull between 10 to 22 pounds of grain (14% CP) daily will ensure an optimal growth rate in a cattle breeding season. Terrain, pasture size, and forage availability determine the ideal bull-to-female ratio.

What Is The Best Feed for A Healthy Bull?

The healthiest feeds to give a bull include hay, pasture and forage, grain supplements, and concentrates.

What Can I Feed My Bull to Gain Weight?

A comprehensive diet of concentrated feed directly impacts the growth and development of beef cattle. Such concentrates include energy feeds such as sorghum, corn, and barley (which accounts for about 60%–70%); protein feeds like cotton seed cake (meal), bean cake (meal), peanut cake, etc. (about 20%–25%); and mineral feeds including salt, bone powder, baking soda, trace elements, and vitamins (about 3%–5%).

Farmers can include feed additives in proportion to the concentrate feed for faster fattening. This can increase beef cattle’s growth speed by more than 15%.

How Much Should I Feed a Bull?

The widely accepted rule is to feed them just below 2% of their body weight unless they’re about to be taken to the market. Adult bulls usually require around 7% protein and 46% TDN, unlike growing bulls, which need larger quantities of protein.