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Just like human beings, cows also need a balanced and healthy diet. If you feed your cattle unhealthy food all day, they will have an unbalanced diet, which could likely kill the animal, or the animal may become too thin due to acidosis (the pH of the rumen will be decreased). One of the popular cow foods is grain. Cattle require a balance of supplements, grains, and forages to thrive.

This article takes you through some good grains you can feed your cattle. We will also examine the importance of grains in the cattle diet and factors to consider when choosing the right grains.

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Benefits of Grains in a Cattle Diet

There are several benefits grains offer to a cattle diet. Here are some of the most common benefits,

Offer Balanced Ration

Grains have high amounts of carbohydrates and are a great energy source for cattle. The grains have moderate protein content, so they cannot supplement protein well when fed low-quality forage. The grains are also low in certain minerals like calcium and have a lower vitamin A activity. When you feed them to your cattle regularly, the grains help ensure a balanced ration.

Acts as Forage Supplement

There are situations where the supply of forage can be adequate, but the quality is low hence, unable to meet the nutritional requirements. You can always supplement the forage supply with low grain levels in such a situation. Here, the main objective is to ensure cattle get maximum nutrition and utilization from the forage while using the grain to cater to the marginal deficiency for energy purposes.

When you limit grains to a few pounds for every cow, there will be small effects of starch fermentation on the digestion of fiber. There needs to be more than the tiny protein contribution from the grain to fix the shortage when the forage protein is in low amounts. It will be great to supplement the protein if you are interested in stimulating forage intake and digestion.

Using Grain as a Substitute for Forage

When the forage supply is inadequate, unavailable, or costly, you can consider feeding grain to your cattle to replace roughage. Cattle must eat more than a small portion if you replace their roughage in their diet. They must eat 2-3% of their body weight in feedstuffs daily.

Apart from feeding your cattle high grain levels as a substitute for hay, heavy grain feeding can be beneficial during the reconditioning of thin cows where high grain rates are of stronger desire.

Handful of forage and grain mix

Important Factors to Consider When Feeding Grains to Cattle

This section will take you through the important factors to consider when getting grains for your cattle.

Quality and Composition

Most of the raw materials have their standard nutrient values listed in the table of ingredient composition. However, there are instances where ingredients will be produced in smaller amounts at the local level. Therefore, you should always investigate the individual suppliers and ascertain the quality and nutrient profiles through laboratory research.

The proximate analysis you perform should contain information concerning the product’s protein, acid detergent fiber, neutral detergent fiber, moisture, fat, and ash content. Ensure you always confirm the nutrient profiles and the quality of the alternative feed ingredients using a lab analysis. This helps determine how digestible the fiber and carbs are.


Nutrient variability is one of the most considerable barriers to utilizing alternative ingredients within feed formulations. It is important to know the supplier and source of this instance, along with having the right nutrient profiles collected over a certain period. Low inclusion levels should be used to measure safety when the variability is high.

You should consider low inclusion levels to help guard against the high variability of alternative ingredients in the feeds.

Digestibility and Availability of the Nutrients

The availability and digestibility of nutrients refer to the extent to which cattle can digest and absorb the nutrients available within the grains. Most ingredients can have a considerable amount of nutrients; they may not be available to the animal for productive and growth purposes.

A perfect example of this is a feather meal with high protein levels, but the amino acids are of low or imbalanced amounts. Keep note of the phytogenic and enzymes feed additives that can improve the digestibility of particular nutrients in place of the raw materials.

Free Hazards

Considering the feedstuff source or the processing type, alternative ingredients can contain foreign materials that can harm cattle consumption. For instance, in particular cases, waste from the bakery can contain plastics or other packaging materials available in the product. Chemical contamination and heavy metals are other hazards that can be present in a product.

Ensure that the grain you get for your cattle is free from hazards. The hazards can seriously affect the cattle’s health and lead to death.


Palatability refers to the ability of cattle to consume grains. Some ingredients may have bitter components, like rapeseed meal or aromas or off-flavors, which can limit their intake. However, consider using Phytogenic feed additives to help improve the feed’s palatability. The use of this additive can also help in masking unappetizing aromas.

Types of Grains Good for Feeding Cattle

There are several types of grains you can feed your cattle. This section will list some common grain types you can always feed your cattle.


Corn is known to be a suitable grain for both ruminant and non-ruminant species of livestock. You can feed your cattle with the corn as a whole or crimped. Corn is well known for its high level of energy.

Nutritional Composition of Corn

Mature corn does contain high amounts of starch, totaling 2,081 kcal for every pound. However, it is low in protein, which makes it an excellent option to act as a feed supplement or a varied feed ration. You should never use corn as a primary source of nutrition. For instance, in cattle rations, corn can be fed in diets that are forage based at less than 0.4% of the body weight.

You can use different methods to introduce corn into the cattle’s diet. You can feed the corn in the form of distillers’ grains. You can let the cattle graze on corn fields during their early growth stages, or you can harvest the corn while it is still moist and feed them as silage.


For a long time, barley has been an excellent substitute for corn in finishing diets that have a higher fiber content than wheat since the fiber content is high and the starch content is a bit lower. Barley is one of the most flexible substitutes for corn as long as the feeding standards are met. You can feed barley either as a whole or break it down by rolling or grinding.

Nutritional Composition of Barley

Barley is an excellent source of energy thanks to its high starch content. According to research statistics, up to 60% of starch is utilized by cattle. Barley also contains high levels of protein compared to other grains, especially when grown in soil rich in nitrogen.

It is possible to process the barley further and pelleted, or you can harvest it while it is still in the high moisture stage and feed it to the cattle as ensiled barley.


Wheat is a high source of starch and offers highly degradable starch. Both wheat’s protein and energy content are higher than corn’s. However, it is impossible for wheat to replace corn as the sole energy component completely. This is because of the high acidosis incidences. Hence, it is always a rule that wheat should never replace corn in more than 50% of the cattle diet.

Nutritional Composition of Wheat

Wheat has a low fiber level which is approximately 3%. It means there will be a need to adjust the fiber content to a minimum of 6% in the total ratio. It is important to coarsely grind and roll wheat to help prevent fines. You should never feed wheat as a finely ground product since it will increase acidosis and bloat chances. Using it in starter diets for young cows or replacement heifers is not advisable.


You can feed oats as a whole grain while their hulls are on. It is difficult to find hulls that will fall off during harvest. However, oats with their hulls removed are quite expensive to use as animal feed.

Nutritional Composition of Oats

Oats are very fiber-rich but have low energy levels due to their fibrous hull and bulkiness. However, its high fiber content can replace some forage needs for cattle getting oat rations.

Consider starting weaned calves on the oats to enable them to get used to grain consumption with this bulky and lower energy feed. Due to their bulk, the cattle will not gain weight at the finishing stage when they eat oats like they do when they feed on high-energy grains.

Soybean Meal

You will always come across soybeans in several pre-formulated feed tags. Soybean is a high-protein grain that is left after the production of soybean oil.

Nutritional Composition of Oats

Soybean contains 38% protein, making them an excellent protein source in cattle rations. Protein is important in cattle diets since it is the basic structure of all cells and tissues, including milk, organs, and skin.

Whole beans have a high-fat content which explains why they are great for oil production. Soybeans that are not processed contain protein digestion inhibitors; hence, they should never be given to the calf.


The impact of sorghum on your cattle will depend on their class. Sorghum as a silage works well in cows that are gestating. Backgrounding and growing cattle will likely gain popularity due to the lower energy content when compared to corn unless the cattle feeder opts to add extra amounts of energy-dense feeds.

Nutritional Composition of Sorghum

Sorghum’s chemical composition and nutritional value are similar to those of corn. Sorghum consists mainly of starch. Just like in corn, both waxy and non-waxy varieties exist in sorghum. The waxy variety of sorghum offers better cattle performance support.

In most cases, Sorghum’s nutritive value is 90% to 100% compared to corn, which has a value of 96%, making it the most dominant. Sorghum has a higher protein content than corn.


Rye is a grain that grows well in cold climates and is very popular in northern Europe and Canada. Most people consider Rye a cousin of wheat that usually does well, whereas most other cereals cannot.

Nutritional Composition of Rye

Rye is similar to the other types of grains reviewed. It comprises high starch levels at 54% and high energy at 10 MJ NE/kg. Its protein levels stand at 9%. Despite Rye containing the same anti-nutritional factors as non-starch polysaccharides, one main problem with Rye is elevated concentration. This is a major concern for younger cattle since the presence of anti-nutritional factors can impair their performance.

Final Thoughts: Choosing the Right Grain for Your Cattle

It is advisable to feed your cattle with grains regularly. All the cattle should have an equal opportunity to eat the grains. Depending on the level of grain, size of the herd, and handling and delivery methods, you can integrate the grains effectively into mixed rations where forages and silage are being fed.

Ensure you choose the right type of grain for your cattle to ensure good health and excellent returns in things like milk production and meat quality.

The team at HerdX® is well aware of the struggles most independent cattlemen face daily. That prompted us to develop modern technology and innovation to help make livestock management more efficient, easy, and profitable.

Cattle Feed FAQS

Here are some frequently asked questions concerning using grains as cattle feed.

What Grains Contain High Amounts of Protein for Cattle Feed?

Providing the correct quantity of protein in ruminant feeds is essential to achieving optimum growth rates and animal health. Soybean is the most commonly used protein source, as it is a high-quality protein.

Which Between Corn And Oats Is Better For Cattle?

Oats have an advantage over corn as cattle feed, as they contain higher amounts of protein. It means you will need less supplemental protein.

Oat also has a higher amount of fiber than corn, which makes it have a lower energy value.

What Is The Right Feed For Cattle To Gain Weight?

Corn and cottonseed are the two grains that will help your cattle gain weight, as they contain dense energy and are high in fat. However, to ensure great results, you have to feed them properly.