Explore the basics when it comes to forages for beef cattle.


Forages for beef cattle are important to the bottom line of your operation. Forages are one of the main—and least expensive options for feeding your herd. An article from the South Florida Beef-Forage Program shares the basics about forages. Find a summary below.

Forages for Beef Cattle


According to the article, beef cow managers should have two goals:

  1. ”To manage forage to minimize supplemental feed needs while meeting nutrient requirements.”
  2. “To maximize forage utilization by the cow.”

Beef cows require the following six classes of nutrients, and forages for beef cattle can provide the bulk of these for the lowest cost:

  • Carbohydrates. Supply energy. “Cellulose or fiber is the primary carbohydrate found in forage species and the primary energy source for the cow.
  • Fat. Supply energy. Forages are not a main source of fats, however, rumen microbes convert cellulose as explained below.
  • Protein. “Protein is composed of repeating units called amino acids, and it is these amino acids that are required by the cow. Rumen microbes digest the cellulose providing volatile fatty acids that the cow uses for energy. Rumen microbes also digest the plant proteins converting them into microbial protein, which has a very good amino acid profile that, for the most part, meets the amino acid requirements of grazing beef cows.”
  • Vitamins. “Vitamins are classified as water-soluble or fat-soluble. The water-soluble vitamins are not a dietary requirement for beef cows in most cases, as rumen microbes make all of the B-vitamins for the cow, and the cow can make vitamin C. The fat-soluble vitamins are typically not deficient in cows consuming green forage or hay, because forage species are generally high in beta-carotene and pro-vitamin D that are precursors for the cow to make vitamin A and D, respectively. Forage species are also high in the other fat-soluble vitamins E and K.”
  • Minerals. “Mineral content of forages can vary greatly depending upon forage species, and soil texture and pH where the forage is grown.”
  • Water. Forages can provide some water to cows, but an open water source is necessary.


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