Cattle Nutrition

As ruminants; cattle can digest a greater quantity of fibre than non ruminants; which in turn affects the type of feed which is preferable for them.

Cattle need six basic components:

  • Water
  • Proteins
  • Carbohydrates
  • Fats
  • Minerals
  • Vitamins.

Different types of feeds will contain different quantities of these various components. There are many different types of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, minerals and vitamins. Some of these are essential, others may not be essential. Different feed components will serve different functions in cattle. Protein is especially important for young, growing cattle and for animals that are producing milk or meat.

For cattle, important metabolic diseases include ketosis, milk fever, fat cow syndrome, and hypomagnesaemia. All these can produce an acute, temporary, but potentially fatal deficiency. Correcting the diet for cows during the period from late pregnancy to peak lactation is crucial in preventing these diseases. If these diseases occur frequently, it is essential to seek professional veterinary and nutritional advice.

Milk Fever (Hypocalcaemia)

Milk fever usually occurs one or two days before or after calving. Loss of appetite and a slight drop in temperature are the first signs of milk fever. Later, the animals may exhibit some unsteadiness as they walk. More frequently, a sick animal may be found lying on her sternum with her head resting on the shoulder. The eyes are dull and staring and the pupils dilated. If untreated, the cow becomes comatose and dies within a day of the appearance of the first signs.

Grass Tetany (Hypomagnesaemia) 

Hypomagnesaemia occurs most commonly in adult cows which are lactating heavily and are grazing on lush grass pastures, and in calves reared predominantly on a diet of milk. In peracute form of the disease, affected animals may be grazing normally, but suddenly develop staggers, fall and undergo severe paddling convulsions. These convulsion periods may be repeated at short intervals and death quickly follows. In many cases, animals at pasture may be found dead without illness having been observed. Acute cases are similar apart from the animals survive a few hours during which periods of convulsion followed by quiet periods. In subacute cases, affected animals may progress to the acute or peracute, convulsive stage after a period as long as 2 to 3 days. All cases of hypomagnesaemia are characterised by loud heart sounds and rapid heart rate.


Ketosis usually occurs within a few days to a few weeks after calving. It is characterised by a sudden drop in appetite and milk yield, constipation, mucus covered faeces, depression, a staring expression, loss of weight, and a humped back suggesting mild abdominal pain. Some animals may develop nervous signs such as salivation, chewing, incoordination, blindness and aggression.

Pregnancy Toxaemia (Fat cow syndrome)

Fat cow syndrome most commonly occurs in fat cows which were heavily fed in early pregnancy, but suffer severe nutritional stress during the 2 months before calving. After calving, the affected cows lose their appetite and become weak. The pulse is small and fast, and droppings are small and firm. Sternal recumbency follows. There is a greater than normal clear nasal discharge. The respiration is rapid and grunting. About a week after the first signs appearing, the cows become comatose and die quietly.

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