What, Exactly, Do We Feed Our Beef?

I wrote a post earlier about what the difference between grass finished and grain finished beef and how Schoentrup Farms fits into that, you can read about it here. But, what exactly do we feed our beef cattle? Well, the answer depends on which age group you are looking at. We have cows (the mamas), calves (the babies from the cows that under 6 months old), and our finishing calves (the calves that have been weaned from their moms and will most likely go to the processor at 12-14 months of age). All three groups eat a different diet, and depending on the time of year, those diets change.

The picture above, from left to right, shows our mineral tubs, a “treat” feed, a hay sample, and our grower feed. The mineral tub is a 24% protein mix that gives the cows and calves all the extra good stuff they need, and they love the taste of it! The “treat” feed is used when we are moving our cows. They are like dogs, if you ask them to do something, they will need a treat in return for doing it or they probably won’t do it again, so we keep some corn and soybean haul pellets on hand for that. The hay sample shows some tall fescue stems, green timothy grass, and alfalfa. This is a higher quality hay and is primarily fed to the cows, I explain why below. The last picture is the grower feed. We feed this to our calves to put on adequate fat and muscle. It has corn, a protein mix pelleted, some supplemental vitamins and minerals, and molasses for taste.

Let’s look at our cows first, they are the easiest. During the warm months, the cows are on pasture so they eat grass. They eat grass all day, everyday! But even the grass can’t always fulfil their vitamin and mineral needs, so we give them a mineral block. Its basically just salt. Think about if you were to eat only salad, your body would require some sort of sodium to transport electrolytes and keep you well hydrated. Speaking of staying hydrated, they have automatic waters in the pasture, so they never ever run out! Things are a little different during the cold season. Because grass doesn’t grow in the winter, we give the cows plenty of high quality hay so they are never deficient in a nutrient. They still have an automatic water that is heated so it doesn’t freeze over and we give them a mineral block.

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The young calves are pretty low maintenance also. They drink their moms milk until we wean them at about 6 months of age. This is for their health and their moms. Beef cows, like humans, need time to recuperate and focus on their next pregnancy, which by this point they should be about 4 to 8 weeks pregnant. Before we wean these calves however, we get their bellies ready for a grain diet but giving them we call a “creep” feed. It’s a high protein feed that is easy on their digestive systems. Ruminants need a variety of feed ingredients to make sure they are running in tip top shape, and creep feed helps with that.

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After the calves are about 6 months old and are weaned, we formulate their food to fit their needs. Our main focus in finishing beef cattle is protein, kind of like a body builder but not so intense. We start with high protein and the older the calves get, the closer they come to maturity, the closer they come to going to the processor, we lower their protein levels. Basically they eat corn, soybeans, a vitamin and mineral supplement, and we add some molasses because its tastes good! They still have free choice hay but we don’t give them the highest quality. You may wonder why. These calves are already getting all their nutrient needs from their feed, the hay is there as a fiber source to keep things moving along in their digestive track.

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And this is ever changing!! Not every animal is the same. Some animals put on weight differently than others so we tailor our feed ration to what the calves need, not necessarily what the industry standards say. We want a high quality product and feed is a huge factor in that quality. Ever heard, you are what you eat? That couldn’t be more true when you are feeding livestock! Although genetics does play a good role in quality, the food they eat turns directly into muscle which we will enjoy as meat after they reach maturity.

So there you have it folks!! That is what we feed our beef animals. I hope you enjoyed your time here and learned a few things as well! Stick around, we have so much more to share!!

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