A Guide to Livestock Feed and Forage

Find out how to choose the best livestock feed and forage for the winter months.


| July/August 2014



Bales of Straw in a Field

Straw is rarely used for feed except when grass hay is in short supply, but a stockpile of it will keep your animals comfortable and warm in winter.

Photo by AGPix/Terry Donnelly

Livestock feed and forage

In a perfect world, with the ideal climate and rainfall, the ideal growing season, and the ideal stocking density, we might never have to feed harvested grain or hay to our livestock. They could graze and forage as nature intended, and we could worry about other things.

Most of us do not live in a perfect world. Many of us will need to plan to feed our livestock hay, processed grains, or some other type of harvested feed in the winter months. Additionally, some stockmen choose to supplement grass with grain to achieve a specific marbling, for instance, or give their meats certain other characteristics.

But at the surface level, how do you know you are feeding the right forage to your livestock?

What’s for dinner, Maaaa?

Livestock feed can be divided into two broad categories: grains and harvested forage — also known as fodder.

Grain feed includes the cereal portion of plants such as oats, corn or milo. It can either be processed into pellets or fed whole. Whole grains can vary widely in quality and nutrition, depending on when they are harvested, their moisture content, and a host of other factors. Pellet feeds were designed to provide a balanced diet and avoid some of the inconsistencies that can be a problem when feeding whole grains. The grains are tested, and if they are low in any of the major nutrients, supplements can be added to balance the nutrients in the feed.

Forages are the wide selection of plants the animal has to choose from when grazing. These could be native grasses, legumes, groomed pastures or woody forbs, and the wide range of plants available in a well-balanced pasture. But unless you live in that perfect world with access to good-quality forage year-round, at some point you will have to supplement your livestock’s diet with hay or grain to maintain good health.





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