People have always been interested in what cattle eat. Recent news stories have suggested that farmers and ranchers are increasingly looking to sources like candy, cereal or fruit peels to feed their cattle during the ongoing drought.
The fact is that just like humans, cattle require the right mix of protein, carbohydrates, fats, minerals and vitamins to help them thrive and grow. That healthy, balanced diet includes simple carbohydrates that can be provided by a variety of sources, and in rare cases include candy or other sweets. Molasses, for example, has been used as a simple carbohydrate in cattle rations for a long time. This doesn’t mean that these are the only things that cattle are fed—it’s just one of the things that fit into their healthy, balanced diet that are developed by nutritionists based on locally available ingredients.
Unlike humans, cattle have a complex (or four-part) digestive system that includes the rumen, where beneficial microorganisms help digest their food. Cattle are uniquely able to turn a variety of feed ingredients or unusable byproducts into the nutrients they need to grow and be healthy. Based on the geographic region of the country where the cattle are raised, the feed may also include locally grown products that otherwise would be sent to landfills or burned and would go to waste. For example, in California, cattle might consume almond hulls as part of their ration, while cattle in Idaho might have potato starch remaining from making hash browns or fries mixed into their ration. There is great diversity in what is locally available and cattlemen take advantage of the existing natural resources in their geographic regions and transform these resources into great-tasting, nutritious beef consumers love.
For more information about what cattle eat, check out this interactive quiz.