What Are Good Grains to Feed Beef Cattle?

It takes more than corn to feed a beef cow.
It takes more than corn to feed a beef cow. (Image: Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

The type of grain fed to cattle raised for consumption is heavily debated. Opponents of corn and grain-fed beef say that the human diet is already too heavily dependent on grains. That side of the debate sees corn-fed beef as high in fat and low in nutrients. A solution is grass feeding beef cattle. Contrary to the protests over corn feed, several university agriculture departments recommend grain feeding beef cattle. The best grains, which include corn, actually provide ample nutrition for the cattle, and humans consuming the beef without digestive difficulty to the cattle.

Traditional Grains

Corn, wheat, milo, oats and soybeans are the common choices for feeding beef cattle, according to the University of Missouri Extension. Of the group, corn is the most cost-effective. Wheat, however, is the most expensive grain used in feeding beef cattle. The University of Missouri Extension suggests using wheat to “finish” the beef cattle or to fatten them up before they are slaughtered. Milo is not used as often as the others are, because the animals have difficulty digesting this grain if it isn’t a part of a grain mix.

Ethanol By-products

The growing demand for ethanol fuel has cut into the availability of grain for feed, specifically corn. As a result, beef cattle ranchers have discovered the importance of distiller’s grains from the byproducts of ethanol processing. The grains contain more protein than corn, more fats for energy and less corn gluten. (According to the University of Florida Extension, corn gluten can adversely affect the coloring and quality of the beef once the cattle are slaughtered.) The Iowa State University Extension estimates that one bushel of corn produces 2.65 gallons of ethanol and 17 pounds of distiller’s grains. The university recommends using distiller’s grains to supplement a diet that is low in protein and/or fat. Farmers living in areas where the available grass is too low to provide ample nutrition are also urged to supplement with distiller’s grains.

Non-traditional Grains

Other grains used to feed beef cattle include field peas. They are grown in a pod and belong to the same family as the lentil, chickpea and fava bean, according North Dakota State University Extension service. Field peas are used as a feed grain because the beef cattle can easily digest them. They do not require additional drying or milling as do other grains. Field peas are used to supplement grain mixes, to add protein, and to increase fat for energy. As an inexpensive grain, the field pea is an alternative that is growing in popularity as beef cattle feed.

Grain-Finished Cattle

The grains used to prepare the beef cattle for slaughter include corn, wheat, field peas, and oats. In finishing or the short period leading up to slaughter, the protein and fat are increased. The cattle eat a diet that is high in grain and low in grass and hay. The University of Missouri Extension urges that beef cattle handlers monitor the livestock closely when on this diet, as it is known to cause digestive issues in some cattle.

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