Do Cows Eat Hay? Find Out What They Eat If Grass Is Not Available

dry hay

Hay is very important for both farmers and ranchers. It is typically made from herbaceous plants, grass or legumes and those different grasses and plants can be made into Fodder. As a matter of fact, even those who have pets like guinea pigs or rabbits will want to buy them especially as winter approaches.

Cows need a properly balanced diet so that they can stay healthy and happy. It is very important for them to get enough nutrients. During summer when grass is abundant and the cows can graze, they typically eat grass. But during winter, farmers will typically use preserved maize or silage.

Since most of the time, we only see cows eating grass, we end up wondering whether or not cows are able to eat hay. Read on and know more about how you can keep your cattle healthy even when grass is scarce or when winter is just around the corner.

Do Cows Eat Hay? Find Out What They Eat If Grass Is Not Available

The Difference Between Grass-Fed And Grain-Fed Cattle

grass fed cows

Although all cows will start off by consuming milk, they will be given different types of diets as they grow. Some farmers want them to be fed mainly with grass, while there are those who prefer to give their cattle grain so that they will be able to gain a lot of weight or fat content.

The cow’s diet has a direct impact on the nutrients that can be found in the meat. Cows that have been raised naturally are typically given a diet that is all made up of grasses or other herbaceous plants. In most cases, grass-fed cows are used to make natural, free range or organic beef or dairy products.

grain fed cows

There are also cows that are not grass-fed but grass-finished. Those are the ones that are given grass to improve the quality of the meat by giving it more marbling. Grain-fed cattle, on the other hand, are typically given corn so that they can gain weight in the next couple of months.

Grain-fed cows are typically given soy and maize. Some cows are grain-finished, this means that they are given grains several months before slaughter so that they can fatten up. Grain-fed cows are used mainly for beef production. However, there are also dairy cows that are given grains to increase milk production.

Can Cows Eat Hay?

fedding herb with hay

Cows have the capability to eat grass and because hay is basically dried grass that is bundled and stored for future use, they are also capable of eating hay. Cows can eat hay that is made up of alfalfa, Bermuda, brome and even sorghum. They can also eat pellet range. But should they be given hay?

Even though cows can eat hay, it does not mean that they should eat hay. This simply means that cows can eat hay depending on whether the cow is grass-fed or grain-fed and whether the cow is grass-finished or grain-finished. This is because their diet must be observed so you can get the right results.

Grass-fed cows for example, will only be given grass during their lifetime to keep the quality of their milk or their meat intact. During winter when grass is not readily available, they are typically given hay so that they will still be able to produce natural or organic beef.

cows eating hay

Grass-finished cows can also be given hay during winter or when they are not able to graze. Grain-feed cows on the other hand are typically given corn and soy. Some cows that need to be fattened quickly cannot be given hay, instead they are placed in feed lots and made to eat a diet made up only of grains.

In some cases, cows can be made to eat hay if no other fodder is available. Some farmers or ranchers will store hay or they will buy hay to keep their cattle in good condition during winter. In some countries or areas, cows cannot eat hay because it is not available. Silage is used to feed them instead.


hay fed cows

Basically, since cows can eat grass, they can also eat hay. As a matter of fact, it can be used to provide 100% of the fodder requirements of cattle. However, cows cannot eat hay that contains molds or is already spoiled. They also cannot eat hay that is made from plants that are toxic to them when fresh.

When it comes to hay, it is very important that you know first whether or not the cow is grass-fed. If the cow is not grass-fed, then you should avoid giving them any especially if they are meant for fattening. During winter, grass-fed or grass-finished cows can eat hay while grain-fed ones can eat silage.

Grass-fed cows typically grow slower than grain-fed cows. Depending on what the goal of the rancher is, this may or may not be ideal. In some cases, especially if the cows are bred for beef production, the rancher may give hay to grain-fed cows to improve marbling, or grain to grass-fed cows for weight gain.

Do your cows eat hay? Tell us more about your cattle’s diet especially during winter in the comment section.

About the Author Emily Taylor

My name is Emily Taylor, gardening is my passion and I’m looking forward to sharing it with everyone. I know that there are millions of people out there want their backyard and garden be attractive just like their front yard, so I am here to help you create your own backyard paradise.

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