Cows eat grass, we all know that! If cattle eat grass and grow well on grass, what’s with diets containing corn?
Cattle are fed corn to get them more calories in their daily ration than they could get if eating grass only. The extra calories are used to increase growth (beef cattle) or milk production (dairy cattle).
The reason farmers feed their cattle corn instead of only grass is money. It’s that simple.
Grass fed animals take longer to grow and, in the case of dairy cattle, will produce less milk, than their grain fed counterparts.
I’m not suggesting corn is good for cattle, it isn’t! I’m just pointing out that it gets results.
Corn is fed to cattle to get cheaper results
Feeding corn to cattle, instead of grass, gives the cattle more calories to digest each day. These extra calories help them to be able to grow faster.
The faster the animal reaches market weight, the sooner it can be sold, the sooner the farmer/rancher gets paid.
Feeding corn to cattle makes them grow faster than not feeding corn.
Here’s a link to an interview with Michael Pollan on modern meat that’s definitely worth reading.
Cattle do not need corn
The catch is that cattle do not need corn! Cattle are ruminants, which means they have a very specialized digestive system that can convert all manner of forages into energy.
Ruminants never need to eat corn!
Is Corn Bad For Farm Animals? goes over the basics of which animals grow well on corn and which animals do not need any.
Corn is used to increase cattle production
For dairy cattle, corn is the most economical way to increase the energy of their feed ration.
Growing corn and feeding it to cows as silage (chopped and fermented feed) gives you more feed per acre than feeding the cattle grass alone, a lot more.
Once again, I’m not saying it is good to feed grain, I’m saying it is fed because it produces results.
Why is corn being fed to cattle?
Results, quicker results. It’s as simple as that.
In the world of quantity mattering more than quality, it pays to get more and be bigger or faster rather than raise the animals in a biologically correct way that takes longer.
What are the corn free feeding alternatives for cattle?
Grass fed works and it works well!
In the times of the year when grass does not grow, hay is fed. Feeding cattle without corn is easy.
Check out my People You Should Know page for multiple people raising cattle without corn.
Then why aren’t cattle eating grass?
While feeding cattle grass is easy, it is their natural food source, it is not cheap.
Grass fed cattle will cost more to raise.
First off, the land to graze can be pricey. Secondly, since more time and expenses are put into the cattle, the meat and milk must cost more to make up for it.
Anything that has higher costs to produce will need to be sold for more money than the lower cost option for the business to be profitable.
This just is basic economics.
Grazing Cattle: Using Grass To Feed Your Herd shows you how it can be done.
Believe it or not, supplementing cattle with corn rather than all grass does pay off in faster gains, if that’s all you are considering for your cattle and your farm or with the farm you are supporting.
Grain does not pay in the nutrient balance of the meat, omega 3 to omega 6 balance, or the health of the cattle, especially if they are “pushed” meaning given large amounts of corn to maximize daily gains.
What can the consumer do about cattle eating corn instead of grass?
You vote with your money, spend it wisely. Spend in a way that supports the people doing the things you want done.
Grass fed beef is doable, it is being raised now by small farmers who care about their cattle, their land and their neighbors. If you want your beef raised this way, start supporting these small grass based beef operations.
Grain Fed vs. Grass Fed shows you the differences between the two ways of raising cattle so you can decide which you want to support with your buying.