Can Cows Survive on Grass Alone?

Cows Survive on Grass

It is a common practise to supplement forage dietary plans with other feed stuff in order to increase production. This is because the nutritional value of grass forage differs in relation to environmental factors and type of vegetation. Some forages are highly nutritious and so cows can survive on grass alone whereas some are deficient in essential nutrients. A common misconception shared across the agricultural community is that all grass forages are the same and cows can survive on grass alone regardless of the type and season. As a matter of fact, the nutritional value of grass is often overlooked. Studies reveal that cows can survive on grass alone, provided that the nutritional value of vegetation matches that of livestock dietary requirements.

Grass Forage for Performance

As previously stated, cows can survive on grass alone as some types of grass forage are nutritious, therefore can sufficiently sustain the dietary requirements of livestock. This is often the practise in small holder farming whereby producers cannot consistently provide cows with necessary supplements owing to the exorbitant cost of feedstuff. Consequentially, cows are forced to solely depend on grass forage. In most parts of the world cows are left to rely on grass forage and are able to produce satisfactory results. There are however terms which govern whether cows can survive on grass alone. These include the availability of adequate amount of forage which can be achieved through adoption of efficient grazing practises such as rotational grazing among other methods. Additionally, as already highlighted, the type of grass forage available also determines if cows can survive on grass alone. According to experts, grass forage based diets are achieved when stoking rates are significantly reduced to approximately 5 to 6 cows per acre instead of the same number of livestock in 3 acres. This basically means that producers with limited available space cannot rear cattle on a strictly based grass diet. Moreover, it is not recommended to provide commercially produced cattle with solely grass based dietary plans. Grass is often lacking in essential nutrients needed for growing cows to reach the ideal slaughter weight.

Grass Forage for Lactating Cows

While most types of cows can survive on grass alone, this is not always the case. Lactating cows are not able to maintain production levels on a grass based dietary plan. According to research studies, lactating cows have a high metabolism rate and therefore need a highly nutritious diet that cannot be sustained by grass forage. Note that subsistence farmers producing milk for their daily sustenance are able to provide cattle with grass feed only but the opposite applies to commercial producers. Lactating cows generally need higher levels of energy and protein which is often not enough in grass forages. Therefore, a popular practice is to make use of supplements such as hay and grain including additives. Studies reveal that similar to human mothers and children, neonatal vitamins and supplementary feed is necessary for lactating cows and their calves. These are often derived from grain or oilseed based source.

How Does a Cow Survive on Grass?

Cows can survive on grass alone due to their superior digestive systems that allow for the efficient breakdown of cellulose found in plants. The digestive system of cattle is designed differently enabling them to eat grass. Their stomachs have four compartment which are meant to encourage digestion of grass. Additionally, their digestive systems consist of micro-organisms known as anaerobic bacteria which are responsible for the digestion of grass. Other types of digestive bacteria that allow cows to eat grass include megasphaera, fibrobacter, streptococcus, escherichia, chytridiomycetes fungi as well as methanogens. Since the amount of ruminococcus bacteria found in the rumen depends on the type of feed, it becomes necessary for farmers to make sure that they provide cows with the ideal type of grass forage.

What is the Best Grass to Feed Cattle?

For centuries, cow dietary plans were solely sustained by grass without necessarily experiencing any adverse effects on health, production and reproduction. This was achievable through the use of efficient grazing system and having sufficient knowledge of various types of grass. Some grass has a higher nutritional profile while some tend to grow throughout the year. Understanding the nutritional value and growing season of the grass helps to determine whether cows can survive on grass alone in a particular area. The following are some of the best grass to feed cattle:


Alfalfa is said to be one of the highest quality forages thus is widely used as cattle feed. It is among the few types of forage capable of sustaining high levels of production and so cows can survive on grass alone if they are given alfalfa. It is highly famed for its superior nutritional profile as well as lower fibre content which makes it highly palatable to cattle. Alfalfa is a rich source of protein, minerals (calcium, phosphorus, magnesium) and carbohydrates among other nutrients that are critical for the development and maintenance of bones, teeth, muscle contraction as well as milk production. Alfalfa generally has high digestibility energy and contains about 18% protein necessary for growth, maintenance, lactation and reproduction. Despite its impressive nutritional profile, alfalfa is known to cause bloat and so should be used with caution.

Red Clover

Red clover is also among the highly productive types of grass that are relished by cows. It is a rich source of a variety of nutrients including calcium, chromium, magnesium, niacin, phosphorus, potassium, thiamine, and vitamin C which aid in bone development as well as in milk production. Red clover is highly recommended to growing as well as lactating cows.  The upside of growing red lover is that it contains a low fibre content and therefore is palatable and more digestible. However, although cows can survive on grass alone, it is recommended to combine red clover with complementary feedstuff.


Timothy is highly famed for its high fibre content that makes it palatable to cattle. Timothy has a relatively low moisture content and is known for its critical role in preventing metabolic disorders. It helps to effectively control hypocalcaemia, or milk fever which is a common problem that negatively impacts between 5 and 10% of every herd of cattle. Timothy has also been proven to enhance the flavour of beef. According to agricultural research, timothy fed beef cows are typically low in fat, with tender muscle. Cows that are fed timothy hay are highly suited for consumer tastes, which increases their market value. This basically means that cows can survive on grass alone, provided that they consume timothy.