Nutrition and Feed Management


Source: National Farm Animal Care Council, Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Beef Cattle Section 2.1

Cattle need to be monitored on an ongoing basis and feed resources must be well-managed and readily-available according to the animals’ changing needs and environmental conditions. Cattle that are not fed adequately will lose body condition, will not perform to their capacity, and are more likely to have reduced immune function (10-12). Signs that cattle are not able to access sufficient feed or water include increased vocalizing, roaming, and breaking through fences.

Body condition scoring (BCS) is an important tool for determining if an animal is too thin (BCS of less than 2 out of 5), too fat (BCS greater than 4 out of 5), or in ideal condition (Appendix A). Ideal body condition scores will vary depending upon stage of production (Table 2.1). Body condition scoring also allows producers to optimize the utilization of feed resources and animal productivity. Be aware that body condition scores are most applicable to mature cattle and may be of little use for cattle under one year of age. Note that the cause of poor body condition is not always nutritional.

Feeding space required depends on type of feed, feeding frequency, amount of feed, presence of horned cattle, animal size, and group size. Increased animal density in the pen increases competition among cattle for access to feed, water and resting areas. Reduced space per animal at the feed bunk also increases competitive interactions among cattle, reduces bunk attendance times, and increases the time spent waiting for access to feed. This might not cause problems for dominant cattle, but it does directly affect subordinate animals, and can result in uneven feed intakes and reduced growth.

Guidance on minimizing diseases associated with high-energy feeding is provided inSection 3.3.3.

Table 2.1 – Body Condition Score Targets for Beef Cattle (10) (assuming spring calving)

Stage of Production Target BCS (out of 5)
30 days before start of breeding 2.5 – cows
3.0 – heifers
3.0-3.5 – bulls
Start of winter feeding program 3.0 – all females
3.0-3.5 – bulls
Calving 2.5 – mature cows
3.0 – bred and first-calf heifers


Monitor cattle behaviour, performance, body condition score and health on an ongoing basis and adjust the feeding program accordingly.

Ensure cattle have access to feed of adequate quality and quantity to fulfill their nutritional needs at all times, and maintain proper body condition, taking into account factors such as: age, frame size, reproductive status, health status, level of production, competition and weather.

Take prompt corrective action to improve the body condition score of cattle with a score of 2 or less (out of 5).

Take steps to prevent exposure of cattle to toxins (such as lead batteries, fertilizer, treated seed, antifreeze, nitrates) and to avoid feed with adverse physical qualities that could cause injury or limit intake.


  1. test nutrient content of feed ingredients used and balance rations as necessary. Consult a nutritionist for advice
  2. become familiar with potential micronutrient deficiencies or excesses in your geographic area and use appropriately-formulated supplements
  3. manage feedstuffs in a way to maintain quality and minimize spoilage
  4. avoid sudden or extreme ration changes
  5. provide a less competitive feeding environment for sick, injured, weak or convalescing cattle.


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