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What do cattle eat?

In Ireland, beef production is a grass-based system. It is considerably cheaper to produce a beef animal in a grass-based system than in a grain-based system. However, did you know that it takes 2 years to have a beef animal ready for slaughter on high production farms, and on other farms, it requires 2 and a half years.

There are 7.2 million beef cattle in Ireland in 2019 (CSO).

Springtime is a very busy period on Irish farms. Over 80% of the national herd are calving! Farmers must ensure calves drink their mother's milk. This makes them strong and healthy and helps build up their immune systems.

All calves born must be tagged under legislation, with an individual, unique tag number. This tag must be registered with the Department of Agriculture (Family Farm).

Cows and calves graze grass throughout the summer months. In fact, they usually do not need any other food source. Grass is the main feed in Irish agriculture. Because of our weather and quality soil, we have very good conditions for growing grass. Summer is a busy time on the farm! The farmer must make silage and hay which will be used as feed for livestock during the winter months.

Silage is fermented grass which cows like to eat. Many older cattle will graze grass throughout the summer months to ensure they are fit for sale in the autumn (Family Farm).

By autumn, calves are now between seven and ten months old and are being weaned. This means they are big enough to fend for themselves without their mother. They are now called weanlings. Beef animals are now usually finished with their supplements which consist of cereal based mixes. As the winter is coming, cattle must be treated to prevent sickness and irritations. When the cold, wet winter months arrive, cattle are housed in warm sheds. While in houses the farmer feeds them hay, silage and/or a cereal based meal mix every day. There are feed barriers to keep their feed clean. Suckler cattle like to sleep on straw beds. The farmer makes sure these are regularly cleaned and bedded (Family Farm).

Breeds of Beef Cows

Hereford

Hereford

Originated in Herefordshire in England. They produce top quality beef with good marbling and are able to fatten on a grass only diet. They are widely cross bred with Friesians to produce the familiar black-whitehead offspring.

Limousin

Limousin

Originate from the Limousin region of Central France. They are now found in eighty countries across the world. They are renowned for their muscle development and the production lean meat. They are extensively used for cross breeding and artificial insemination (AI).

Charolais

Charolais

Originate from the Charolais region in Central France. They are a large bodied and heavily muscled animal. They are capable of fast growth, leading to higher weight and the production of lean meat. They are also used for cross breeding.

Simmental

Simmental

The Simmental has historically been used for dairy and beef, and as draught animals. They are particularly renowned for the rapid growth of their young, if given sufficient feed. Simmentals provide more combined weaning gain (growth) and milk yield than any other breed.

 

Belgian Blue

Belgian Blue

Originated in Belgium. They are a large beef breed with a black, white and blue coat, hence the name. They are famous for their impressive muscling which is commonly referred to as ‘double muscling’. Their ease of calving is debated.

Aberdeen Angus

Aberdeen Angus

Are native to the Aberdeen region of Scotland. They have a dominant polled gene (i.e. no horns). They are very adaptable and produce high quality marbled meat. They are easy calvers and because of this, are used extensively for cross breeding.

Wagyu

Wagyu

A Japanese group of cattle breeds first introduced to Ireland in 2008. ‘Wa’ means Japanese and ‘ghu’ means cow. Waghu beef is renowned for its intensely marbled appearance. It is held in high regard by chefs across the world.

Parthenaise

Parthenaise

A Canadian breed of cattle. This breed is descendant from three European breeds; Teeswater shorthorn, Aberdeen Angus and British white. The first embryos were imported from Canada to Ireland in 2007. The speckle half of the breeds name comes from its characteristic black, grey and white spots.

Shorthorn

Shorthorn

Originated in England. This breed was the main dairy breed in Ireland until the 1960s. They are a dual-purpose breed (dairy, beef). Their blocky build is well suited to beef production.

 

Aubrac

Aubrac

Originate from Massif Central region in Southern France. They are well muscled, medium sized animals, producing continental type marbling of beef. They have the ability to convert low cost roughage such as grass or hay into beef. They also have good maternal traits and ease of calving

Speckle Park

Speckle Park

A Canadian breed of cattle. This breed is descendant from three European breeds; Teeswater shorthorn, Aberdeen Angus and British white. The first embryos were imported from Canada to Ireland in 2007. The speckle half of the breeds name comes from its characteristic black, grey and white spots.

Belted Galloway

Belted Galloway

A Scottish breed of cattle with a distinct colouring of black with a white belt around the abdomen. They are naturally hornless (polled). The breed suffered population losses due to the 2001 foot and mouth epidemic but have since recovered. They are known for their marbled meat.

Piedmontese

Piedmontese

Originated in Piedmont in Italy. Traditionally a triple-purpose breed (dairy, beef, draught) but is more often raised for beef. They are known for their good quality beef with studies showing that the meat is lower in cholesterol and higher in protein. This is primarily due to the ‘double muscling’ gene.

Saler

Saler

Originated in France. They are a large, hardy and long living cattle breed. They are said to be very efficient foragers. Salers are equipped to handle a wide variety of temperatures and ground conditions including indoor slats.

Blonde D'Aquitaine

Blonde D'Aquitaine

Originate from the Aquitaine/Garonne valley in France near the Pyrenees Mountains. They are said to have a superior killing out percentage (the weight of the carcass in relation to weight of the live animal immediately before slaughter). They are the 3rd most numerous cattle breed in France after Charolais and Limousin.

Dexter

Dexter

Dexter cattle are one of the smallest cattle breeds in the world. They are typically 1 metre tall with a coat of black, red or light brown. Their small size makes them useful for grazing on less accessible areas such as bog and mountainous regions

Cow Anatomy

Cow Cuts
Cow anatomy

Nutrition

Beef is an excellent source of protein. An average steak contains 50% of the protein an adult needs in a day. All age groups need protein to grow, develop and maintain healthy muscle development. 

Beef contains vitamins B2, B3, B6 and B12 which helps to maintain a healthy body. Beef also contains zinc which is essential for a healthy immune system. 

Did you know that many Irish women and children are not eating enough iron. An average portion of lean red beef contains half the dietary requirements of iron you need in a day.