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How Much Grain to Feed a Cow?

Last Updated: 22.04.24



Whether you’re new to raising cows or you’ve gained some experience but you still need to learn more about cattle feed and the factors to consider when it comes to the quantity and type of feed to use, this post might be of help.

What your cows eat depends on a variety of factors ranging from the fluctuations in the air temperature to the age and body condition of the cows. If you’re interested in grain feeding, here are some important things to know.


Introducing grain

Grain can be fed as a supplement to grazing, a drought ration, or in lot feeding. No matter your case, utmost attention should be paid to this step in cattle feeding in order to avoid unwanted effects.

If you’re just starting to feed grain, you need to allow your cow’s digestive system to gradually adapt to this new food; therefore, introduce it into your cow’s diet slowly and in small quantities. Otherwise, if your cow’s digestive system is not accustomed to grain and has large amounts of it, health problems such as grain sickness may occur.

This health condition includes grain overload, lactic acid poisoning, and acidosis. To avoid health problems that can be fatal, make sure the animal gets only small amounts of grain at first. Increase the amount slowly.

In case you have more than a cow and you might worry about uneven feeding, it is best to feed the cows separately if possible. Separate polled cattle from horned cattle and draft off shy-feeders. By doing so, you will reduce the risk of overfeeding. Some cows may eat grain readily while others may refuse it when being fed in groups.

It is recommended to hand-feed the cattle with hay before you introduce grain. By doing so, you will help your cattle get accustomed to a feed trough. When all the cows in a group eat hay readily, you can start to feed them grain.

You can place the grain on top of the hay at first, then gradually replace the hay with grain. The transition from hay to grain should spread over 2-3 weeks or so.

Grain rate

To successfully introduce grain into your cattle’s diet means to choose the right grain rate, as we’ve said before. While there might be a slight variation, the grain amount you should start with is 1.10 lbs per head per day. Stick to this amount until all the cows that are being fed actually eat the grain.

Once you’re satisfied with how much grain the cows eat, you can slowly up the grain level by 1.10 lbs every second day until you reach the desired ration. Pay attention to any sign of grain sickness. In case you notice such signs, make sure to remove the affected cattle and feed them only hay until they get better.

There are other factors that can contribute to and increase the likelihood of digestive health issues. The type of grain used and the weather changes can cause digestive disturbances. Therefore, keep an eye on such things as well.


How to avoid grain sickness

As mentioned above, grain can trigger various digestive problems, even when it is fed in small quantities. There are some things you can do to reduce the likelihood of such unpleasant events.

You might want to feed more fibrous grains such as oats to help the cows digest them more easily. Grains such as wheat contain little fiber and thus may make it more difficult for the cow’s digestive system to cope.

To help the cows digest grain, you can add chemicals that balance acidity during the introductory phase. They are known as buffers and some of the most popular ones are sodium bentonite and sodium bicarbonate. You can withdraw them after 4 weeks or so of grain feeding.

When grain is the greatest part of your cattle’s daily feed, as it happens in lot feeding or drought feeding, it is recommended to add 1% of ground agricultural limestone for the calcium it contains. If your group of cattle includes young or lactating animals, you might want to add 1% of sodium chloride to correct any sodium deficiency.

Grain feeding frequency and processed grain

During the introductory phase, you should feed grain daily, yet do so in small amounts. If grain is used as a supplement or as part of drought feeding, you should add it to your cattle’s feed every second day. In such cases, the cattle should be on full rations as well as accustomed to eating grain.

To help the cattle enjoy better grain digestion, you can process the grains by crushing, milling, or rolling them. However, great attention should be paid as, in some cases, processed grains might cause acidosis. There are some things to commit to memory in order to avoid unpleasant events.

Processed barley and wheat are significantly easier to digest whereas the digestibility of grains like oats is only slightly increased through processing. If you decide to use processed grains, then feed them in troughs. Whole grain can be easily fed on the ground as it won’t get wasted.

In case you want to separate grain from roughage, then make sure to go for whole grains as they are considered to be safer this way. If you mix roughage with grain, it is safe to crush the grain.

Consider the processing equipment you have at your disposal before processing the grains. Crushing grains using a roller mill is highly recommended instead of using a hammermill to do that as the results achieved are superior in terms of quality and cost. By using low-quality processing tools, you may even up your final costs as the poorly processed grains may actually increase the feed intake.

If you’re not sure about how much grain to feed your cattle, see your veterinarian for a diet that will be personalized on your cows’ age, body condition, and other such factors.




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December 13, 2020 at 10:44 am

You stated to increase grain by 1.10 pounds per day. What is the final goal for grain per day?


December 16, 2020 at 8:07 am

Hi Lynne. It depends on the weight. Please refer to the below article for more info:

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