The Science of Cow Nutrition: What Goes into Cow Feed?

Lot of Holstein Cow eating in a milk production farm

Cows are complex creatures with unique dietary needs, and providing them with the proper nutrition is crucial for their overall health and productivity. Understanding what’s in cattle feed — and why — is not just a matter of curiosity. It also plays an essential role in making sure your herd’s health is the best it can be so they can produce the best milk or beef.

Learn all about the key ingredients of cattle feed and their role in supporting your herd’s growth, reproduction, and well-being.


Remember the human food pyramid you saw in school with grains making up the large bottom section? Well, if cattle were to have a similar food pyramid, forages would make up the largest group.

Forages include high-fiber feedstuffs like grass, hay, grain hulls, silage, legumes, alfalfa, and clover. Forage plays an important role by providing bulk, encouraging healthy digestion, and supplying essential nutrients like fiber, carbs, protein, and fats.

If you have your cows on pasture, it’s important to remember that grass can change nutritionally throughout the year. You need to make sure you are supplementing it correctly during different seasons (especially spring) to avoid diseases like grass tetany.


Concentrates are one of the most important cattle feed ingredients. Forage does include some essential nutrients, but grass won’t be enough to keep your cattle happy, healthy, and producing well. While forage ingredients should be high in fiber, concentrates are low in fiber. But they can be considered a concentrated source of energy and protein.

Grains like corn, oats, barley, wheat, and rye are often used as concentrates in cattle feed. By-products like brewery and distillery grains, peanut hulls, and bakery waste can also be added as concentrates to your feed formula.

Protein Sources

Protein is crucial to any cow’s diet. Cattle depend on protein for growth, maintenance, and reproduction. If your cattle aren’t getting enough, you’ll notice it in their growth.

For dairy cows, crude protein should make up anywhere from 12–18% of a feed’s dry matter (feed minus the moisture content), depending on the lactation stage. Concentrates with high protein content include soybean meal, cottonseed meal, and sunflower meal.

While concentrates provide valuable nutrition, they should be added thoughtfully depending on your cattle’s nutritional needs. You want to ensure you give your cattle a balanced diet that promotes productivity and health. Working with professional nutritionists and a custom feed manufacturer like Star Blends can help you strike the right balance between quality forage and protein-rich concentrates.

Vitamins and Minerals

The best food for cows will always have the right minerals and vitamins, which are essential for promoting growth and health. The key minerals and vitamins your cattle need include:

  • Salt
  • Calcium
  • Magnesium
  • Phosphorous
  • Potassium
  • Vitamins A, D, and E

Vitamin and mineral mixes are often added to cattle feed. If you purchase a complete feed, it should already have the right minerals and vitamins included. However, if you are creating your own feed or purchasing one that isn’t complete, you can add a cattle feed premix to ensure your herd receives the right minerals, vitamins, and other supplements.

Keep in mind that forage quality, milk production level, and body condition can affect the mineral requirements of your cattle. It’s best to consult a professional to make sure you’re including the proper amounts in your feed.


Just like all mammals, cows need water — and lots of it. Not only does water help keep your cattle hydrated, but it is also important for facilitating digestion, regulating body temperature, supporting milk production, helping with nutrient absorption, and maintaining general health. Cows should consume about 25 gallons of water per day, or 3 to 5 pounds per pound of dry matter eaten.

Trust the Experts at Star Blends for Your Cattle Feed

Don’t compromise on your cattle’s nutrition. Partner with Star Blends and experience the transformative impact of custom feeds. Our team will work with your nutritionist, and we will help manufacture unique, personalized feed mixes that address your herd’s specific needs. Contact us today about a custom feed mix for your cattle.





Got Milk or Got Beef? Dairy Cows vs. Beef Cows

dairy cows in a green field

Just because two animals belong to the same species, it doesn’t mean they’re fit to perform the same tasks. After all, you wouldn’t take a Yorkie on a hunting trip, would you? The same goes for cattle.

To the average person driving by, a cow is a cow. But those working on a farm or ranch know that dairy cattle and beef cattle are far from the same. Learn the key differences between dairy and beef cows, including what to feed them for optimal productivity.

What Cows Are Used for Milk?

Dairy cows are always female and selected for their milk production capabilities. Common dairy cattle breeds include Holstein, Jersey, Brown Swiss, Guernsey, Ayrshire, and Milking Shorthorn. While the breed may differ, dairy cows normally have larger udders, thin bodies, narrower legs, and longer necks.

Can You Eat a Dairy Cow?

In short, yes, dairy cows can be used for meat. However, they put their energy toward producing milk instead of producing fat and muscle like beef cattle. They don’t have the quality meat on their bones you’d expect from a good cut like ribeye or sirloin.

Dairy cows aren’t raised with the sole purpose of producing meat, but they can’t keep calving and milking forever. Once a dairy cow is retired, it may be sent to slaughter and used for cheap ground beef.

Dairy Cow Feed

Dairy cattle feed has three main ingredients: grass/forage, concentrates, and vitamins and minerals.


When determining what to feed a milk cow, quality forage will be the foundation. Your feed should start with a base of grass, which is where your cattle will get a good amount of their crude protein. A cow needs 1 pound of crude protein to produce 10 pounds of milk. The grass can come in the form of silage, hay, or pasture grasses.


Grass is not enough to meet a dairy cow’s nutritional needs, though. Concentrates are another source of crude protein or energy to include in your feed. Some examples of concentrates you can add include cereal grains, brewing byproducts, corn gluten meal (great source of protein), and soybean meal.

Vitamins & Minerals

In addition to grasses and grains, your dairy cattle will need the proper vitamins and minerals to support high milk yields. Sodium, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and potassium are some minerals and vitamins to focus on when making or choosing cattle feed.

Dietary needs will vary depending on their stage, like lactation or dry periods. Working closely with a nutritionist and partnering with a custom feed manufacturer like Star Blends can help ensure your herd has the nutrition they need, no matter what stage they are in.

What Cows Are Used for Meat?

Beef cattle can be either male or female and are selected based on their ability to gain fat and muscle. They have stockier, muscular builds and can withstand harsh conditions. Common beef cattle breeds include Angus, Hereford, Holstein (when not used for dairy production), Braham, and Simmental.

These cattle produce more quality meat, like steaks, roasts, and high-quality ground beef. Other parts of the animal (bones, hide, fat, etc.) can be used to create byproducts like broths, leather, gelatin, pet food, and more.

Do Beef Cows Produce Milk?

Unlike dairy cows, beef cows put their energy toward building muscle and fat instead of milk. Beef cows still technically produce milk but only make enough to feed their calves. They produce about 1 or 2 gallons a day, far below the average 6 to 7 gallons produced by dairy cows.

Beef Cattle Feed

What do you feed a beef cow? Similar to dairy cows, beef cattle feed is based on grass and concentrates. However, beef cattle usually eat more grass than their dairy counterparts. Beef cattle also tend to primarily be on pasture due to their high grass diets and the fact their stockier builds can withstand outdoor conditions.

Beef rations usually consist of forage or pasture, concentrates (corn, barley, wheat), and protein sources (soybean meal, canola meal, alfalfa). The ratio of grass to concentrates varies depending on frame size. If you have larger cattle, you may need to decrease the grass while increasing the concentrates.

You also need to consider the stage and type of cattle you have. Feed will differ for calving cows, weaned calves, replacement cattle, and grower and finisher cattle. A professional nutritionist can help you determine the appropriate feed profile needed for your beef cattle at different stages and sizes, and the Star Blends team can formulate a custom feed to meet the nutritional needs.

Beef or Dairy, Get the Right Nutrition with Start Blends

Whether you’re a dairy farmer striving for optimal milk production or a beef cattle producer focused on high-quality meat, Star Blends can create a custom feed designed to meet the specific needs of your herd. We believe every cow deserves a customized nutrition plan, regardless of its purpose. Contact us today to get started.

What Is Animal Feed Premix and Is it Right for Your Operation?

man checking in on dairy cows

Nutrition plays a significant role in the health, productivity, and overall well-being of your cattle and other livestock. You want your cattle to be in the best shape and produce the best milk or beef possible, which means you need to pay close attention to what you feed them.

Many farmers and ranchers incorporate premix into their cattle’s diets. But what is premix, and how can it help your operation? Learn the basics of premix so you can decide if it’s the right move for you.

What Is Feed Premix?

Animal feed premix is a blend of vitamins, minerals, supplements, and other nutritional ingredients designed to provide a balanced diet and meet the specific nutritional needs of your livestock. It’s blended with other feed ingredients — like grains, roughage, and protein sources — to optimize your feed’s nutritional profile.

Whether you’re focused on reproduction, development, growth, or maintenance, having a cattle premix full of the right micronutrients can help.

Premix vs. Complete Feed

Some feeds may provide plenty of energy and protein but lack the nutrients necessary to support the performance and health of your cattle. Premix can be added to these feeds to ensure your animals’ nutritional needs are fully being met.

Complete feeds, however, are made to be the sole source of nutrition for your cattle. Their formulas should have all the grains, protein, and micronutrients needed to maintain and promote animal production. A complete feed should already have premix included in its formula, so nothing needs to be added.

How Is Premix Used?

Premixes come in strong concentrates and are not meant to be directly fed to your livestock. Instead, premix is added to your normal feed in very small amounts. You need to carefully and accurately measure the premix before combining it with your feed to make sure your cattle receive the right amount of nutrients.

How much premix you add depends on the premix formula, the nutritional goals you have for your livestock, and the feed you add it to. It’s best to work with an animal nutritionist and strictly follow any guidelines and instructions provided by your premix manufacturer.

How Can My Operation Benefit From Cattle Feed Premix?

If you aren’t already using a complete feed, you risk nutrient deficiencies and your cattle might not produce at their full potential. Adding a premix can combat malnutrition while offering tons of other great benefits.

Premix makes up a very small portion of your final animal feed, but with the right formula, its impact can be significant. Premix for cattle feed can help your animals produce quality milk and beef, support them through different stages of growth, and improve their health and immunity.

Plus, when your cattle receive all the right nutrients, it can help cut down on feed consumption. Less feed means less cost, and when you combine that with increased productivity, it can make a huge difference for your bottom line.

How Do I Pick a Feed Premix Manufacturer?

There are tons of animal feed premix manufacturers, but you don’t want to trust the well-being of your livestock with just anyone. A quality feed premix requires a knowledgeable manufacturer who will care for your animals as if they were their own.

While standard, ready-made premix is an option, these premixes can be inconsistent in quality and formula. And if your livestock have any dietary restrictions or need specific nutritional support, selecting the right premix becomes even more important. You’ll want to find an experienced feed manufacturer who can create a custom premix blend that meets the exact needs of your livestock.

Custom-Made Premix and Feed for Your Cattle

Star Blends is here to help make your life easier and ensure you have the best feed and nutrients possible at an economical price. Whether you need premix or complete feed, we want to provide you with high-quality feed custom-made for your cattle. We’ll even work with your private nutritionist! Get in touch today to learn how we can help you, your cattle, and your bottom line.

More Blog Posts

From Grass to Glass: How to Boost Cow Milk Production

Whether you run an operation with a large herd of dairy cows or just own a cow or two for personal use, you understand how important high milk production is. When your cows are lacking proper nutrition, it could mean losing out on profit or not having enough milk for yourself and your family.
Read More →

From Grass to Glass: How to Boost Cow Milk Production

cows being milked

Whether you run an operation with a large herd of dairy cows or just own a cow or two for personal use, you understand how important high milk production is. When your cows are lacking proper nutrition, it could mean losing out on profit or not having enough milk for yourself and your family.

If your dairy cattle aren’t achieving your production goals, you don’t have to accept it. With the right nutrition and care, you can help boost milk yield.

What Affects Milk Production in Cows?

Many factors play into cow milk production. Some are outside your control, such as breed, age, and climate. Other factors you can control, like cow comfort, daily milking frequency, dry periods (time between calvings), and feeding and nutrition.

How Does Feed Intake Affect a Cow’s Milk Production?

In simple terms, more feed intake means more milk. You need to maximize feed intake to support milk production, especially during the early lactation and pre-fresh stages. According to the University of Kentucky, for every extra pound of dry matter (feed with the water subtracted) consumed, an early lactation cow can potentially produce two extra pounds of milk.

When a dairy cow does not consume enough feed (and therefore not enough nutrients), milk production is negatively impacted. At best, the cow may not milk as well as usual. At worst, the cow will start to rely on its own fat stores to produce milk, leading to an underweight cow incapable of producing milk.

You don’t want to go to the other extreme, either. Overweight cows may also have lower yields, and you have to worry about more difficult calving and added veterinary costs. Ensure you are feeding your cattle enough without overfeeding and compromising their health.

How to Increase Milk Production in Your Cows

Monitoring your cows’ health, providing comfortable accommodations, reducing stress, and following best practices for milking and dry periods can all help with milk production. However, none of that will mean much if you don’t provide your cattle with the proper nutrition. If you want to boost milk production, focus on the feed.

Consistent Feeding

As mentioned earlier, feed intake is crucial for supporting milk production. You should prioritize keeping plenty of high-quality feed in front of your cattle. Some recommended practices to follow include:

  • Giving cattle access to feed for 22–23 hours a day
  • Not allowing feed bunks to become empty
  • Pushing feed up every 2-3 hours
  • Refreshing feed at least twice a day
  • Cleaning out feed bunks daily
  • Rotating cows on pasture and providing any necessary supplements

Start with Quality Forage

Quality feed starts with a base of quality forage. Ensure your forage is free from contaminants, which can lead to mold and yeast growth and poor fermentation.

A high-quality forage will encourage higher feed intake because low-quality forage does not pass through the stomach as well. Plus, forage with low contaminant levels can preserve the forage’s nutritional integrity.

Provide the Right Nutrients

Even with a great feeding routine and high-quality forage, your cows’ milk production will be lacking without the proper nutrients. Don’t overlook crude protein and the amino acids that compose it.

Crude Protein

Depending on the stage of lactation a cow is in, crude protein should make up 15–17% of the total dry matter.

Amino Acids

Amino acids make up protein. Lysine and methionine are two amino acids that play a crucial role in milk production but are often deficient. It’s not uncommon for cows to be overfed protein to make up for lysine and methionine deficiencies. But overfeeding protein can be expensive and impact your cows’ productivity.

Nutritionists have started to balance for amino acids to combat methionine and lysine deficiencies and prevent protein overfeeding. Feed that is balanced for amino acids can lead to increased milk yield and increased milk components. Working with a nutritionist can help ensure your feed ration has the right ratio of lysine and methionine to keep your cattle producing at their full potential.

Custom-Made Cattle Feed for Milk Production

Cattle nutrition depends heavily on age, weight, environment, and breed. There is no one-feed-fits-all solution for keeping your dairy cattle at peak production levels.

When providing your cows with the nutrition they need, turn to the experts at Star Blends. Our team can create custom feed tailored to your herd’s specific needs, helping you achieve optimal milk production and overall herd health. We’ll work directly with your nutritionist to ensure your cattle’s needs are being met. Contact us today to learn how we can help keep your cattle healthy and happy.

More Blog Posts

What Is Animal Feed Premix and Is it Right for Your Operation?

Nutrition plays a significant role in the health, productivity, and overall well-being of your cattle and other livestock. You want your cattle to be in the best shape and produce the best milk or beef possible, which means you need to pay close attention to what you feed them.
Read More →