Substituting Grain for Hay

Stephen Boyle
Beef Specialist
OSU Extension Service

Substituting grain for hay is economical when roughages are in short supply. Since grain costs more per pound than hay, a smaller amount of grain must be fed to economically substitute for hay. This will require restricted feeding of grain.

Restriction of Hay: The most economical diets are those diets that have almost no hay at all. Dr. Steven Loerch, OARDC (1993) fed 2 lbs. of first cutting hay, 2 lbs. of supplement, and 12 lbs. of whole shelled corn per cow per day during November and December. The cows received 2 lbs. of hay, 2 lbs. of supplement, and 14 lbs. of corn until spring turn-out. The cow averaged 1300 lbs. in this study. Dr. Loerch recommends taking 3 to 4 days for adjusting the corn and decreasing hay to the 2-pound level. The facilities need to be fairly secure. The following was the supplement used:



Ground Corn 32.1
Soybean Meal 45.6
Urea 4.1
Limestone 7.8
Dicalcium phosphate 4.3
Trace mineral salt 3.2
Potassium source 2.3
Selenium premix (200 ppm) .4
Vitamin premix .2

 Partial Restriction of Hay: Hay-restricted diets will be the most economical, but secure facilities to control hungry cattle may be limiting for some producers. Therefore, for those individuals with limited facilities, substitute grain for only part of the hay or roughage (Steeds and Devlin, 1984; Whittington and Minyard, 1988). A minimum of 1/2 pound of hay per 100 lbs. of body weight is suggested (approximately 5-6 lbs. of hay/day). During extremely cold weather or in pastures with little winter protection, the hay could be increased to 3/4 pound of hay per 100 lbs. of body weight (8 to 9 lbs. of hay/day).

Additional hay can be provided in the form of very mature, low-quality hay or straw bales placed in hay feeders. This could be provided in addition to the previously mentioned hay. This hay, however, must be purchased or produced at a very cheap price to maintain an economical diet. Moldy hay is not cheap at any price.

The amount of grain necessary for each cow will depend on the cow's initial condition. From 8 to 12 lbs. of grain is suggested, with lower conditioned animals receiving the higher amounts. Increase the grain allowance during the last two months before calving.

Include a protein supplement during the last 2 months of pregnancy if low-quality forages are fed. Lactating beef cows can consume a 50% straw-based diet without rumen impaction problems occurring.

Feed the grain in a manner so each animal has an equal opportunity to eat. Sorting the herd into nutritional groups (for example: heifers and old cows versus cows) will aid in limit feeding grain.

Beef cows may become deficient in vitamin A before spring if the roughage fed is made up of winter range or old hay, or if grains make up a substantial part of the diet. Vitamin A may be included in the protein or energy supplement. Vitamin A also can be included in the mineral source. One also can inject 1,000,000 IU of vitamin A. This may be enough for 6 months. A grain-based diet is normally deficient in calcium. Consider using a "finisher" type mineral supplement that has higher calcium content than normal cow-type mineral supplements.

Some suggestions for substituting grain for hay:

  1. It is generally best to replace only part rather than all of the roughage if your facilities will not hold continuously hungry cattle. In this situation, feed at least 1/2 pound of hay for every 100 lbs. of body weight (5-6 lbs. of hay). In extremly cold weather or without winter protection, increase to 8-9 lbs. of hay.
  2. Provide adequate amounts of vitamin A and calcium.
  3. All animals will require equal opportunity to eat at the same time.