What do beef cattle eat?

The ingredients that go into livestock feed are called feedstuffs. The feedstuffs cattle consume consist of roughages, grains, oilseeds and byproducts.


Roughages are coarse, indigestible ingredients that provide bulk to the diet and promote normal bowel functions. In the human diet, foods like lettuce and grains provide the roughage we need to stay healthy. In the beef cattle diet, common roughages include hay, silage and grass. Silage is a crop that has been preserved in a moist, succulent condition by partial fermentation in a tight container (silo) above or below ground. The majority of the food cattle eat comes from this type of feedstuffs.

Roughages are mainly filler in the cattle’s diet. They are high in fiber but relatively low in energy.


Grains are high in energy but low in fiber. Common grains fed to cattle are corn, milo, barley and oats. Milo is a drought-resistant type of grain. Much less grain is needed in the cattle’s diet than roughage is. This is because grains fill cattle energy needs more than it fills their stomachs.

Cattle are fed more grain the older they get. They gain weight faster when they are on higher amounts of grain. This is how cattle are finished off before they go to market.


Oilseeds are very important in the cattle’s diet. They perform many functions such as providing energy, proteins and some fiber to the cattle’s diet. Some examples of oilseeds are soybeans and canola meal.


Many co-products used for cattle feed are leftover ingredients from food production for humans.

Some common co-products fed to cattle include distiller’s grains, sweet corn cannery waste, bakery waste, grain screenings and apple pomace. Some of these products, such as grain screenings, are used as fillers. Others of these products, such as corn products, are very sweet and should be fed at a minimum.

Cattle have a very diverse diet. Cattle eat a variety of feeds that provide them with different nutrients.

Learn more about what animals eat

Learn more about beef cattle nutrition