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How to Feed Beef Calves

| Updated September 26, 2017

Things You'll Need

  • Roughage feeds -- hay or pasture

  • Concentrate feeds -- corn or other grains

  • Protein, vitamin and mineral supplement

  • Fresh water

  • Salt

Beef calves usually spend the first six months with their mothers. After weaning, the calves are fed to gain weight. Cattle are ruminants, livestock with a four-part stomach. They primarily consume roughage feeds such as hay or pasture. Grains are added to increase the energy level of the ration.

Allow the beef calves to nurse the cows for five to seven months. Wean at 450 to 600 pounds. If good quality pasture or grazing land is provided to the cows and calves, beef calves gain sufficient weight. Alternately, quality hay such as alfalfa, grass or oat will provide adequate nutrition. Provide clean, fresh water, salt and mineral supplements in addition to the roughage.

Provide a creep feeder to nursing beef calves if they don’t receive adequate pasture or hay. A creep feeder is a feeding area that allows the calves but not the cows to enter. The creep feeder provides supplemental feed for calves. A typical creep feeding ration is corn or a mixture of 65 percent corn and 35 percent oats.

Place beef feeder calves on good quality pasture to economically gain weight. After weaning, calves enter a growing phase. By a year of age, beef cattle weigh 550 to 800 pounds or more. Another option is to feed feeder cattle a mixture of roughage and grains. A typical daily diet consists of 11 pounds alfalfa hay, 6 pounds rolled barley and 1 pound of a commercially prepared supplement. The supplement contains protein, vitamins and minerals. On this ration, a feeder calf will gain about 2.5 pounds per day.

Feed 800 pound feeder cattle a finishing ration. The goal of this feeding phase is to produce an adequately finished beef animal for market. Market weight for beef cattle is 1,100 to 1,400 pounds, depending on the frame size and the breed. The cattle consume 2 to 2.5 percent of their body weight in dry feed during this phase. A typical diet for a 1,000-pound steer is 5 pounds hay, 1.5 to 2 pounds soybean meal and about 13.5 pounds of shelled corn.

Feed breeding heifers and bulls a ration that provides adequate weight gain without excessive fat or finish. The diet for growing young breeding animals is often good-quality pasture, grazing land or hay. The diet is supplemented with grain to increase the energy level, if needed. A protein supplement such as soybean meal is added to increase the protein level as required.


  • Corn is a popular energy feed for cattle. Barley and wheat are also high-energy feeds. But sometimes they are rapidly digested and may cause more digestive problems than feeding corn. Oats might be too expensive because they have a lower energy content.