Limit Feeding

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Knowledge Nuggets

  • In years when forage production is low due to adverse weather, hay prices often escalate. In severe cases forage of any kind may be hard to obtain. In situations like this, producers may consider limit feeding concentrate (high grain-low forage) diets to cows.
  • In some years, it may be cheaper to purchase nutrients through concentrate feeds than through roughage.
  • The basic principle is to feed a concentrated energy source and a supplement in just enough quantity to meet the animal’s requirement for maintenance or a targeted level of weight gain. Generally, a very limited amount of roughage (minimum of 1% of animals body weight) will be fed to keep the animal’s digestive system healthy.
  • Limit feeding high concentrate feeds is necessary to prevent animals getting to fleshy and to control daily costs.
  • Limit feeding requires additional management skills, feed storage capacity availability of feed bunks, feed delivery equipment and additional labor.
  • The cost effectiveness of limit feeding will depend on each producer’s price of forage, the price of grain, and the price of the supplement. Saving must exceed the additional costs of the program.
  • The nutrient content of grains is relatively consistent. However, harvested forage is extremely variable in nutrient content. To accurately evaluate and adjust the feeding program all forages must be feed tested.
  • During the limit feeding program, cattle act hungry especially during the first few weeks of the feeding period. Be aware that cows will even consume the bark off of trees in the feeding area. However, substantial research has shown that cow performance with limit feeding can be equal to traditional free choice hay and supplement diets.
  • Cubes, pellets or ground grain work equally well in limit feeding and will be dependent on price of each feed type and feeding situation.
  • Limit feeding concentrate diets to beef cows is a management technique that will need to be used very infrequently as it takes a higher level of management. However in unique situations limit feeding may be an economical alternative to purchasing expensive hay.
  • Cows should be in good body condition prior to the onset of cold weather. Adjustments to the feeding program should reflect changes in outside air temperature. Provide adequate shelter from the wind to reduce effects of cold stress.
Fact Sheets

Limit-Feeding Cows in a Drylot - available in PDF format only

Limit-Feeding Cows on a Corn-Based Diet

Limit Feeding Concentrate Diets to Beef Cows as an Alternative to Feeding Hay - available in PDF format only

Limiting Feed Intake with Salt - available in PDF format only

Wintering Livestock Using Alternate Day Feeding
  For more information about the content of this document, contact Grant Lastiwka.
This document is maintained by Mary Ann Nelson.
This information published to the web on March 20, 2003.
Last Reviewed/Revised on January 23, 2017.

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