Grass to Grain

Exploring what cattle eat

Common Grass to Grain Confusion: Exploring Misconceptions about What Cattle Eat

Most people today don’t live on a cattle ranch or even near a feedyard. As a result, it’s understandable that confusion exists about what cattle eat. While you’ve learned or demonstrated your knowledge about cattle nutrition basics, let’s take a closer look at specific topics that are often confused.

Common Question: Is corn bad for cattle?
Fact: When cattle arrive at the feedyard, they receive a primarily roughage-based diet with a lot of hay and fiber before being “stepped-up” to a higher energy diet with more grains, which often includes corn. This gradual process gives the bacteria in the rumen (a cow’s four stomachs) time to adjust and is healthy for the cattle. Corn is part of the carefully balanced, nutritious diet provided to cattle in feedyards under the guidance of cattle nutritionists.
Common Question: Is beef from grain-fed cattle more likely to contain E. coli?
Fact: Not at all. Escherichia coli O157:H7 can live in the digestive track of all cattle, no matter what they eat. Which is why the beef community has invested millions in researching and implementing steps to ensure the safest beef possible. Consumers also can help ensure safety by handling and preparing all beef correctly at home.
Common Question: Wouldn't it be better for the environment if all cattle were grass-finished?
Fact: Actually, research from numerous universities and the Hudson Institute Center for Global Food Issues indicates grain-finishing beef cattle results in significantly less greenhouse gas emissions than grass-fed beef, on a pound-for-pound basis. Researchers attribute this to the easy digestion of a grain diet, which results in less methane production. Also, grass-fed cattle required more than five acres of land to produce a pound of beef, while less than 1.7 acres are required per pound of grain-finished beef.
Common Question: Why are cattle given antibiotics? Doesn’t this cause antibiotic resistant problems?

Fact: Cattlemen, ranchers and veterinarians rely on a combination of good science and compassionate human touch when meeting the nutrient needs of their cattle and in providing good medical care. Disease prevention is a cattlemen’s first priority. However, when their animals become sick, cattlemen judiciously treat them with FDA-approved antibiotics in consultation with a veterinarian.

Cattle are not routinely fed antibiotics. In reality, some cattle receive a class of antibiotics known as ionphores that promote the good bacteria in the rumen and help cattle better digest and use their food (similar to a probiotic). The World Health Organization, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the Centers for Disease Control and prevention agree ionophores are not important to human medicine.

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