Is Corn Bad For Farm Animals?

lamb, cow, goat and chicken pictures around ear of corn

Should farm animals eat corn? Some people state that corn is fine for livestock, others that corn is a monster.

There is a tremendous gulf between those two statements. Which is the case?

Corn is a digestible food for animals with simple stomachs, like pigs or chickens. Corn as a large portion of the ration is not a biologically appropriate food for ruminants, like cattle and sheep.

As you can tell, the real question to start with is what animal are wondering about? Whether or not corn is bad for the animal depends upon the animal and the amount eaten.

What Is Heritage Breed Pork? walks you through the confusion of the term heritage, giving you the understanding to choose what pork you spend your money on.

Animals with simple stomachs can eat corn

Any animal with a simple stomach can eat corn or other grains, just fine.

This is the “corn is fine for them to eat” group.

Chickens, ducks, and pigs are all examples of animals that digest corn well, while maintaining a high level of health and well being.

Ruminants do not need corn

Ruminants are animals that chew their cud. Goats, cattle and sheep are all ruminants that, strictly speaking, do not need corn.

This is the “corn is a monster” group.

Feeding high levels of corn to ruminants upsets their digestion, since corn is not one of their biologically appropriate foods. It’s like you living on donuts and candy!

Check out this interview with Michael Pollan for great information on the consequences of raising cattle on a high corn diet.

Ruminants have the ability to digest forages that a simple stomached animal can not.

In fact, ruminants can digest forages so well that they can live on forages alone!

This all star forage digestive system is the reason why ruminants do not need corn. Ruminants can eat corn, they just don’t need it!

Check out my article on the Best Animal Eat Your Extra Grass for an example of ruminants in action!

2nd cutting hay in hay baskets, baled end of July
2nd cutting hay we baled for winter feeding animals.

Why feed corn to animals that don’t need it?

Money. That’s the short answer.

Corn is high in energy

The reason farmers choose to feed corn to animals is because corn is high in energy. High energy feeds=faster growth=get paid sooner

Corn can be a very low cost feed

For most of the country, corn is the cheapest feed ingredient for the calories.

When a farmer is getting paid for results alone, the way to make the most money is to keep feed costs down.

Corn is easy to get (in most areas)

The final reason corn is so frequently fed to farm animals it that it is easy to get!

Corn is easy to transport (for the calories per pound) and commonly available. That makes it a popular choice for feeding animals.

The most economical way to feed animals depends upon the area!

In our area of Ohio, this is the case. Land is expensive and corn is plentiful, compared to feeding the equivalent in hay or grass.

In other areas of the country grazing land is readily available and grain is harder to come by.

Notice how we keep circling back to money.


Some farm animals are fine eating corn. Pigs and chickens do well eating corn.

Ruminants (cattle, sheep, goats) never need to eat corn.

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