Have you ever wondered what bulls eat? Bulls look menacing with their staunch bodies and sharp horns, it’s hard to imagine them quietly chewing on grass. Surely bulls don’t just much on grass all day the same as cows, do they?
Bulls and cows are the same species, so a bull’s diet consists mostly of grass and other wild foliage just like cows. As well as grass, farmers will often supplement a bull’s diet with additional grasses and grains over the winter to help them meet their considerable energy requirements. Supplemental bull food includes hay, silage, barley, corn, and soy.
In this article, we’re going to look more closely at bulls’ diets, find out what they eat and why, as well as look at how their diet is different from cows.
What Do Bulls Eat?
Ever seen a bull’s field? Pretty short grass, right? Bulls are not picky eaters and will eat grass, clover, daisies, and dandelions all day long. If the farmer let them, they would happily munch their way through a field of crops too.
Bulls are ruminants, which means they’re able to digest and extract nutrients from plant-based materials that aren’t very nutrient-dense, through a complex process of multiple digestions.
Bulls subsist mostly on grass and other foliage that they can find while grazing. In addition to these natural foods, bulls may also be given a variety of supplemental preserved grasses, grains, and synthetic cattle feed to help them maintain their health and growth over winter when there isn’t enough grass. Common supplemental bull food includes hay, silage, soy, barley, and corn.
Bulls tend to have a summer diet and a winter diet. In the summer, bulls forage for grass and other foliage out on the pasture, while in the winter they are usually fed grains and other supplemental foods by the farmer, since the weather is too cold for grass to grow.
Let’s take a look at each scenario and see how it affects a bull’s diet:
Although they look tough, bulls are herbivores and will spend the summer foraging for grasses, grains, root vegetables, and other plants they can find out in their pasture. Given the chance, they would happily find their way into a field full of crops and eat their way through them too. (They love beets!)
During the summer months when temperatures are warm and grass is plentiful, bulls and beef cattle are often left to their own devices without much maintenance required from the farmer, so their diet is mostly natural as long as the farm has enough good quality grazing land and the climate is warm enough for grass to grow.
Read More: How Many Acres are required to raise Cattle?
During the winter, the climate is too cold for grass to grow, so bulls often receive a supplemental diet of preserved grasses, grains, legumes, and/or synthetic cattle feed.
These supplemental foods allow the bulls to continue to meet their energy needs, even when they can’t find enough food foraging.
Some of the supplemental foods a bull might eat over winter include…
Each of these have their own advantages and disadvantages, for example hay and straw are dry, and can be stored for a long time whereas silage is prone to mould and has a complicated creation process.
Hay, Silage, and Straw can all be created by the farmer during the warm months and stored for when they need it in the cold months.
Grains like corn and barley, and legumes like soy are usually bought in, since they take up a lot of space to grow. This makes them an expensive feeding option for farmers compared to hay or silage, which can be created for very little cost with a bit of planning.
Read More: Are Cows Herbivores?
Do Bulls And Cows Eat The Same Stuff?
Cows and bulls are the exact same species. Both regular cows and bulls are domestic cattle, and share the same diet, consisting mainly of grass and other foliage they can find while out grazing.
Although cows and bulls usually eat the same things, bulls are usually left outside for longer periods to forage than dairy cows, who need to come in every day to be milked and get fed with grains and man-made cattle feed in the milking parlor.
For this reason, bulls tend to eat a higher proportion of natural grass and foliage than dairy cows. (This also applies to beef cattle)
Do Bulls Eat Meat?
No, bulls do not eat meat. Cows and bulls are all vegetarian and don’t intentionally eat meat in nature.
There used to be a widespread practice of adding meat-derived protein to cattle food to boost their growth and keep them healthy, however this practice has largely been outlawed because it helped perpetuate the spread of Mad Cow Disease.
Food Requirements of Bulls
Since the food cattle eats directly affects the bottom line of the farmer, there have been lots of studies into the exact energy requirements of bulls and cows.
In a 2002 study published in the Journal of Animal Science, it was found that bulls require around 77 calories (kcal) for every 1kg of bodyweight. In practical terms, this means a 1,000lb bull would need a massive 35,000 calories just to sustain their energy levels for one day. This is 14 times higher than the energy requirements for an average man.
Read More: How Big Are Bulls and Cows?
To sum up, bulls typically eat grass, leaves, daisies, dandelions and any other plant material they can wrap their tongues around.
During the winter when there are fewer sunlight hours and lower temperatures, bulls may struggle to maintain their massive energy requirements since the grass doesn’t grow as well. To combat this, farmers often supplement bulls’ diets with energy-dense foods like soy, corn, barley, hay, and silage.
Although bulls can look quite different from regular cows, bulls and cows share the same diet. The only differences are that bulls tend to graze more than dairy cows, since bulls don’t have to be inside during the day. (You can’t milk a bull!)