Date of this Version



© 1995, The Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska on behalf of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln Extension. All rights reserved.


Feed costs are the cow/calf producer's greatest expense in producing a weaned calf. To remain competitive, cow/calf operators must use economical feeding programs. It is important to match the available feed resources with the nutrient requirements of the first-calf-heifer and cow. Both over- and underfeeding the cow herd can lead to high production costs.

Nutrient requirements for heifers calving as 2-year-olds and cows calving as 3-year-olds and older are shown in Table I. Beef cows are seldom fed complete rations where ingredients are weighed daily. Generally, most of a cow's ration is forages such as: 1) summer and winter range, 2) crop residues, or 3) a full feed of hay. For cattle grazing dry native range or being fed hay, producers must estimate both the quantity and quality of feed consumed.

Estimating intake is the most important criteria for developing a sound nutritional program. It is also one of the most difficult to obtain. Many related factors can influence forage intake, including cow size, milk production level, cow condition, quality and availability of forage, amount and type of supplements, and environmental factors. Consequently, the more accurately that actual intake is determined, the better one can design an appropriate feeding program. Estimated dry matter capacities for different weights of cows and heifers are shown in Table II. These general guidelines are adequate for balanced rations meeting the nutrient requirements in Table I.

If the ration is high in both protein and energy, cows will likely consume more than indicated. If the ration is low in protein and energy, cows will probably not consume as much as indicated. Table II provides guidelines to aid in determining forage intake. It may be more appropriate for use when intake is not actually known. Intake guidelines in Table III are also more appropriate when calculating or budgeting feed needs for a total winter feeding program.