Cattle – food and water

Nutritional information for cattle.


Cattle must have access to adequate and appropriate water for their age, stage of production and weather conditions.

Automatic waterers are the preferred and most efficient method of providing water to cattle in paddocks or yards. If this is not possible then adequately sized containers must be provided to ensure adequate quantity and quality is available for the number, age, production level, bodyweight and type of stock, dry matter content of the feed provided and the weather conditions (air temperature, available shelter and humidity). Access to water provides further information about supplying drinking water for cattle in paddocks.

In general cattle require 30 – 80 litres per day and more if lactating.

Water availability is particularly important for calves recently weaned.

Water medications should be introduced gradually and closely monitored to ensure correct dosage and consumption of adequate water quantity.


Cattle must have access to adequate and appropriate feed for their age, stage of production and weather conditions.

Cattle must not be fed animal meal or fish meal. This is to prevent the spread of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) disease agent.

Quantity and quality of feed should be based on:

  • Bodyweight and/or fat/body condition score
  • Extra demands based on growth, pregnancy, lactation and exercise
  • Prevailing/predicted weather conditions.

Regular assessment should be made of the needs of the cattle in relation to the quantity and quality of feed. This can be done by weighing cattle and using a fat/body score system regularly.

Condition scoring of dairy cattle

Body condition score for cattle

Cattle are most efficient, in terms of digestion, with good quality pasture comprising a balance of grasses and legumes. Grazing occupies a large amount of time in both dairy cows (about 8 hours/day) and in beef cattle (about 9 hours/day) for cattle on a balanced pasture. Grazing behaviour is affected by many factors, including environmental conditions and plant species.

Care must be taken when cattle are put on pastures with a high legume content as bloat can occur.

Commonly, due to lack of space, cattle kept in schools are provided with supplementary feeds, comprising of a mix of grain, meal, pellets and chaff. Supplements are often added to these mixes. These supplements should be carefully assessed for suitability and safety.

When providing supplementary feeds, the rule is to introduce new food types slowly and carefully, do not feed excessive grains, feed plenty of high quality roughage and feed small amounts at frequent intervals.

Grain poisoning of sheep and cattle – Prime Facts

Safely getting stock onto grain

Regular monitoring should be carried out to help identify shy feeders and allow for their management before they drop condition.

Care needs to be taken when cattle are being fed rations high in cereal grain and oil meals as these feeds have high levels of phosphorus and magnesium but relatively low levels of calcium and potassium. This imbalance can contribute to animals developing urinary calculus or urinary tract obstruction. More information can be found at Urolithiasis in ruminants.

Beef cattle feeding and nutrition


Nutrition for lactating dairy cows

Dairy Australia – Feeding & nutrition

Beef cattle nutrition – An introduction to the essentials

Australia has an inclusive ban on the feeding to all ruminants of all meals, including meat and bone meal (MBM), derived from all vertebrates, including fish and birds. The current ban was established by statutory laws in each of Australia’s jurisdictions and enforced by official inspections and audits, which also take into account quality assurance schemes that operate within Australia’s ruminant livestock industries. This acts as a fail-safe control measure to rule out the possibility that feeding will amplify the BSE agent in the unlikely event that it is introduced to Australia.

Animal Health Australia

Feed controls – stopping BSE (mad cow disease)

Calves and weaners

Calves should receive adequate colostrums within 12 hours of birth, with the first feed occurring as soon as possible. Bucket or bottle feeding of young calves should be carried out twice daily.

Particular attention needs to be given to weaned calves to ensure appropriate nutrition is provided.

Many schools participate in calf rearing programs that provide an excellent opportunity for students and reduce the need for calves to be kept for extended periods of time by the school. These programs should provide advice and support for teachers and students. The school needs to ensure that the calves can be kept in an environment that is:

  • Clean
  • Dry
  • Well drained
  • Provided with sufficient bedding
  • Draught free and well ventilated
  • Free of projections that may cause injury.

Feeding equipment must be hygienically maintained. Solid feed should be gradually introduced and roughage provided to encourage the development of the rumen function from three weeks of age.


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