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close this bookBetter Farming Series 11- Cattle Breeding (FAO - INADES, 1977, 63 p.)
close this folderFeeding cattle
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View the documentHow cattle feed
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View the documentHow to feed calves


It is very important to feed cattle well.

An animal that is badly fed grows badly; does not produce much meat; does not produce good calves; is often ill.

A modern farmer pays attention to his animals' feeding.

He knows the needs (see Booklet No. 8, page 20) of all the animals in his herd.

He gives the cattle food to meet their needs and gives it regularly (see Booklet No. 8, page 23).

He knows too that all the animals in the herd do not use their food in the same way.

For example:

He knows that one ox in his herd gains weight faster than the others. He knows that this ox makes better use of the food given to it.

A cow which is expecting a calf gets more food. It has a pregnancy requirement (see Booklet No. 8, page 21).

A working ox also needs more food. It has a production requirement (see Booklet No. 8, page 20).

How cattle feed

Cattle eat chiefly grass. We shall see how the grass is used, how it is digested.

· Let us watch a cow feeding. When a cow feeds, it takes a little grass with its tongue. It grips the grass between the upper jaw and the teeth of the lower jaw. It jerks its head to pull off the grass.

· Let us look at a cow's mouth. There are two jaws and a tongue. The upper jaw has no front teeth. The lower jaw has eight front teeth. The older the animal is, the more the teeth are worn. You can tell the age of a cow by looking at its front teeth.

Toward the back of the mouth you can see large teeth. With these the cow chews the grass. They are called molars.

Bones of a cow's head

When the cow has bitten off the grass, it does not chew the grass at once with its teeth; it swallows it. The grass goes into the first stomach (or rumen).

A cow feeding

A cow can eat a lot of grass; there is room for up to 15 kilogrammes of grass in its first stomach, depending on the size of the breed.

But a cow needs a lot of time to feed, to fill up its first stomach. So you must give a cow, and especially working oxen, at least 8 hours a day to feed off pasture.
Cattle ruminate.

When a cow has finished filling its first stomach, it often lies down.

But it goes on moving its jaws. It is ruminating.

The cow brings up a little grass from its first stomach into its mouth.
It chews this grass for a long time with its molars.
When the grass is well chewed and broken down, the cow swallows it again.
But this time the grass does not go into the first stomach, but into the second one.
A cow needs several hours to ruminate.

A ruminating cow: the grass comes back to the mouth

A ruminating cow: the grass goes to the second stomach where it is digested

· A cow can ruminate well when it is quiet, and above all when it is Iying down.

If you make a shelter, the cow will be protected from rain, wind and sun; it will be quiet; it will rest; it can ruminate well.

· The cow ruminates because its digestive system is made to digest and transform grass. The digestive system consists of the mouth which takes in the grass, of the first stomach which stores it, of the molars which chew it, and of the other parts of the stomach and intestine which digest it. This intestine is very long, more than 20 metres.

· Animals that ruminate are called ruminants.

Goats, covvs, sheep and camels are ruminants.

Young calves do not ruminate, because their first stomach is not yet developed. So they must be given different food.


Cattle must be given enough food, and rich food, all the year round.

· Enough food

If an animal cannot find enough food, it cannot gain weight.

All the food is needed for its maintenance (see Booklet No. 8, page 20).

· Rich food

Cattle eat grass.

They find in grass what they need to build their bodies and become strong.

But it is often necessary to give them a feed supplement (see Booklet No. 8, page 14).

Cattle that are raised for meat must grow quickly.

Then you can sell them faster and make money faster.

So give them a feed supplement.

An ox that is bred for working must be strong, have big muscles and bones. It will be strong if it is well fed.

So give it a feed supplement.

A cow that is producing calves needs good feeding. It has to feed the calf in its womb. And then it has to give the calf milk.

So give the cow a feed supplement.

· All the year round

· In the rainy season there is plenty of grass, it grows quicker. It is easy to feed cattle then.

· In the dry season it is very difficult to feed animals well. Grass becomes hard and scarce. The stems are tall, the leaves dry. Animals don't want to eat this grass. They get thin and sometimes die.

So there are months in the year when cattle are well fed.

There are other months in the year when cattle are badly fed. They get thin, lose the weight they have gained during the rainy season.

That is why you have to wait several years, often 5 or even 7 years, to get cattle for selling.

If the cattle were better fed, especially in the dry season, they would take fewer years to reach the same weight.

They could be sold when they were younger.

A modern cattle breeder who hasn't got enough food for his animals during the dry season should sell some of the animals at the end of the rainy season.

Then his animals will have enough food during the dry season, they will not get thin, they will stay in good health.

· How are cattle fed in traditional animal husbandry?

To give the animals enough food all the year round, people used to move the herd from place to place.

When there is no more water and grass in one region, the herd is taken to another region where there is still water and grass. This is called transhumance.

During the dry season, grasses are very hard and very tall. They prevent the cattle from walking and they are not good to eat. So they are burned. After the fire the grasses grow again and are better for the animals to eat.

But brush fires damage the soil (see Booklet No, 5, page 21 ) and they destroy useful plants which cannot stand burning as well as grass.

· The modem way of feeding cattle

In order to give animals enough good food all the year, farmers

· improve their pastures
· make new pastures and grow fodder crops
· store green fodder as silage and hay
· give their animals feed supplements
· give their animals enough water

Improving pasture

A pasture is the field where cattle find grass to eat.

In order to have tender, young grass, divide the pasture into four parts.

Each week put the cattle in one part, and let the grass grow in the other parts.

At the end of four weeks go back to the first part

The four weeks

After the herd has been through the pasture, cut the weeds before they seed, so that they won't multiply.

Storing grass

During the rainy season, grass grows a lot. The cattle do not eat all of it. Grass can be stored in the form of silage or hay.

· Silage

Dig a pit 1.50 to 2 metres deep and 1.50 to 2 metres wide.
This pit is called a silo.
It has to be made rather long, so that all the cut grass can be put into it.
At the bottom of the silo put some large stones.
On these stones put the grass to be stored.
Tread the grass well down by trampling on it.
On top of the full silo, on the pressed- down grass, put earth and stones.
The silo must be well closed, so that air and rain cannot get in, and the grass will not rot.
Grass so kept stays good for a long time, for several months. Animals eat it readily.
So that the grass stays good, you must not take more than 2 days to fill, tread down and close the silo.

A silo

· Hay

You can also dry grass. Cut the grass when it is green and let it dry. The dried grass is called hay. Many farmers keep the dried stalks and leaves of groundnuts in order to feed them to animals. This is groundnut hay. Hay is nearly as good a food as green grass.

For hay to be good food, you must cut the grass vein it is still green, before it starts going to seed, and before it becomes too hard. Cut the grass when it is young, and you'll get good hay. If you wait too long before cutting the grass, you will get not hay, but straw. Animals do eat straw, but it is not easy to digest. Straw is used for making manure.

How to make hay

You can cut grass with a machete. But you will get the work done more quickly if you cut the grass with a scythe.

Cutting grass with a scythe

When the grass is cut, let it dry in the sun. Then turn it over and leave in the sun the parts that are not yet dry. This work is done with a fork. When all the grass is quite dry, make it into a big heap next to the animal shed.

Then you can give the animals food during the dry season.

When the grass is dry on one side, turn it over to dry on the other side

Sun is needed to dry grass.

So you must wait for the end of the rainy season before you make hay.
Feed supplements

When there is not enough fodder, when the grass is very hard, give the cattle a feed supplement.

When oxen are working, when cows are about to calve, when cows are giving milk, they must be given a feed supplement.

You can give them oil cake made from groundnuts, copra or cottonseed.

You can also buy cattle meal.

Some manufacturers make a feed in which every 100 kilogrammes contain: 50 kg maize meal 10 kg copra oil cake 38 kg groundnut oil cake

2 kg mineral salts (dicalcium phosphate and salt).

For example, a cow weighing 300 kg which gives 3 litres of milk can be given every day:

15 kg of pasture grass

1 kg of palm kernel or copra oil cake.

Mineral supplements

A mineral supplement supplies mineral salts. Animals too need mineral salts. If animals do not get enough mineral salts, their bones will not grow well.

This calf has not had enough mineral salts

You can also give mineral salts by putting salt in the water or in the hay, by giving native soda or a mineral lick (licking stone). A licking stone weighing 1 kg contains: salt (400 9), calcium (150 9), phosphorus (80 9) and other mineral salts.

Supplementary note (see Booklet No. 8, pages 20-21)

Daily requirements of cattle in feed units and protein

· Maintenance requirement

Weight (kg)

Feed units

Protein (g)



















each additional 50



· Growth requirement


Feed units

Protein (g)

Up to 1 Year



1 to 1 1/2 years



1 1/2 to 2 years



2 to 3 years



· Fattening requirement

Feed Units

Protein (g)



Pregnancy requirement

Feed units

Protein (g)

Fifth month


During the last 2 months

Sixth month


double the maintenance

Additional per month



Lactation requirement

Feed units

Protein (g)

Per litre of milk



· Work requirement

Feed units

Protein (g)

Normal work



Heavy work



Watering cattle

Animals need water.

Animals lose weight in the dry season because they are not well fed, but also because they do not drink enough.

An ox can drink 30 to 40 litres of water a day, or even more in the dry season, if it is very hot and the grass is very dry. Oxen do not need to drink as much if it is not very hot and if the food contains plenty of water, such as green grass or silage.

Animals drink

· at the cattle shed, from a hollowed- out tree trunk, or from a barrel cut in half, or from a concrete basin, all of which must always be kept very clean.

· from a river or stream. But you must be careful, because the water is often dirty and may give the animals some disease. Their water must always be clean. You can build a little dam (see Booklet No. 6, page 16) to store up water.

· at a well.

Wells are sometimes very deep and it takes a lot of work to draw water from them.

It is quicker with a hand pump or a motor pump, or with a rope and wheel.

You can use an ox or a donkey to pull the rope.

Drawing water from a well

So, remember, it is important:

· to give every animal every day all the water it needs, even in the dry season. It is best to let the animals drink two or three times a day.

· to give them water that is as clean as possible. Many diseases come from dirty water.

· not to let the animals stand in the water after they have drunk. They make the water dirty.

It is good to add a little salt to the water. We have seen that mineral salts are good for animals.

How to feed calves

· At the beginning, with mother's milk

The first stomach of a young calf is not fully developed. It cannot ruminate. If it is fed grass, it cannot digest it (see page 8).

But milk is digested without ruminating. So the best food for a young calf is the mother's milk.

But too often the cows do not have much milk and the calves cannot drink enough.

Never feed two calves with the milk of only one cow.

The cow gives too little milk to feed two calves.

A two- month- old calf fed with its mother's milk needs 4 to 6 litres of milk a day.

During the first 2 months leave all the mother's milk for the young calf. During this period do not milk the cow. Keep all her milk for the calf.

It pays better to do that.
If you sell milk during these first 2 months, you earn a little money.
But the calf will not be well fed, it will not put on weight.
It may die.
In that case you will lose a lot of money.

· Later, with grass

For 2 months the calf drinks its mother's milk.

At the age of 3 weeks, it can be given a little green grass. Its stomach develops and it begins to ruminate. At 3 months it can digest grass. The calf, we say, is then weaned. It no longer needs all its mother's milk. The cow can then be milked.

After weaning, the calf no longer drinks its mother's milk and feeds on grass.

Weaning is often the time when calves die. It is difficult for calves to change from one food to another.

To help a calf at weaning, give it a feed supplement as well as grass. If you mix this feed supplement with water, the calf will digest it better.

Do not forget to give calves a mineral supplement (see page 17).

If a calf lacks mineral salts its bones will be badly formed.


You may give the calf any of the following:

· Cereals

Millet, sorghum, maize, rice are good feed for calves.
Crush these cereals so that they are well digested.
1 kg of crushed millet feeds a calf as well as 2 kg of whole millet grain.
These feeds are costly.
They are food for people, but you can give animals grain that is broken or damaged by insects, and the part that people do not eat, that is, the bran of rice, maize or millet.

· Oil cake

This is the name for what remains when the oil has been taken from groundnuts, copra, oil palm kernels or cottonseed.
Oil cake is good food, rich in protein.

Meal for calves Dealers sometimes sell meal for animals. This meal is a mixture of crushed grain and oil cake.
For instance, to make 100 kg of meal, the following mixture is used:

62 kg of crushed sorghum
35 kg of groundnut oil cake
3 kg of mineral supplement.

The 3 kg of mineral supplement contain:

0.6 kg lime
0.3 kg salt
2.5 kg bone ask.