No matter when you're reading this post, somewhere in America, a hamburger is being eaten. That might be a slight exaggeration but not by much.
Total U.S. beef consumption hovers around 24 billion pounds. That breaks down to around 71 pounds of red meat eaten by each citizen, vegetarians excluded. By any definition, that's a lot of beef. It also puts a lot of weight on the shoulders of the nation's cattle farmers. Feeding cattle should become a matter of routine, but that starts with a solid cattle feed plan. Here are some of the things to keep in mind:
Here's a cattle feed planner printout created by Arrowquip (great for encouraging kids to take part in homestead activities):
Beef Needs Protein
In one of those "circle of life" moments, beef cattle are a great source of protein. They also need protein in their diet. For cattle, that source of protein could be from legumes. We're talking soybeans. Added to the soybeans would be cottonseed meal and linseed, both of which provide an extra protein boost.
Other nutrients that help support growth in beef cattle are minerals and vitamins. Unfortunately, there isn't a ginormous Flintstone Chewy Vitamin for cows. Instead, a mineral block can be placed in their shelters. To cows, these are like salt lollipops that will give them the minerals they need.
Taking the Cattle Out to Pasture
As any good cattle rancher will tell you, "Good pasture makes good beef." Cows that are put out to pasture for feeding require a bit more labor. However, cattle that can be promoted as grass-fed will also fetch a higher price.
You can't just turn a cow loose in a field and say, "Tuck in." You have to constantly monitor the seed mixture and soil. Pastures also have to be rotated. It's kind of like moving the herds through a grid. While they're eating in one zone, the next one is resting and growing back.
Make Sure the Hay Stays Dry
If you need to bring your cows in for the winter and will be feeding them with hay, then make sure you've got good storage for that hay. A well-ventilated hay shed needs to keep the hay dry to avoid mold. Moldy hay isn't good for the cows, but it can work as compost.
Don't Forget the Water
Cattle can drink anywhere between three to 30 gallons of water during the winter. When the weather turns warm, they need to drink at least one gallon for every 100 pounds of body weight. It's not enough to fill up the trough and let them have at it. You have to make sure that source is free of algae and manure. It might be better for you to control the water than to let them drink from a stream, where there’s too much risk of added bacteria.
Once you've worked out your cattle feed plan, you can also plan your schedules for the day, month and year. Make it a good plan. Your cows are counting on you.
Photo by Fotolia/Željko Radojko