Cattle nutrition

This page contains information for Northern Territory (NT) pastoralists and beef producers who want to learn more about what supplements to feed cattle, and when.

Climate has a profound effect on pasture quality throughout the year.

Seasonal variations in the nutritional value of pasture determine what supplements should be fed to cattle, depending on where in the NT they are.

Top End

Tropical Wet and Dry seasonal fluctuations affect the areas north from, and including, the Barkly Tableland.

During the Wet Season, when paddocks are lush and green, the tropical native pastures are high in protein and low in phosphorus.

Cattle should therefore be fed phosphorus supplements to counteract phosphorus deficiency.

During the Dry Season the quality and protein content of the pasture declines as it ages.  Cattle should therefore be fed protein supplements in order to maintain productivity.

Central Australia

South of Tennant Creek the climate is semi-arid. Rainfall is unpredictable and extremely variable.

Around the Alice Springs region, the semi-arid native pasture species are more resilient and hold on to their nutritional qualities for longer.

Producers will need to make their own assessment of what supplements are needed depending on their location and local pasture quality.

Below are detailed results of grazing trials, supplement trials and feeding guides.

Supplementary feeding of grazing cattle

You can get guidelines to determine what and when nutrient supplements should be fed to grazing cattle.

Read the Agnote pasture quality and animal requirements PDF (30.4 KB).

Cattle weight changes on pangola pasture

A trial was undertaken at Berrimah Research Farm on the growing and grazing of pangola grass.

This trial provided early indications on the benefits of planting improved pasture in terms of cattle production and the potential of increased stocking rates.

Get the cattle weight changes on pangola report PDF (114.2 KB).

Cobalt and copper in cattle and pastures

Cobalt and copper deficiencies can lead to reduced productivity and ill thrift. Supplementation of these minerals has been trialled at Berrimah Research Farm.

Read about the results of this trial in the cobalt and copper in cattle and pastures in the Top End report PDF (262.0 KB).

Nitrogen for cattle in southern NT

Nitrogen is one of the major nutrients needed by cattle and is often the one most lacking in native pastures during the Dry Season.

You can read more about how nitrogen in the soil-plant-animal system can help improve production in the southern NT. Read the Agnote nitrogen nutrition requirements, sources and use PDF (71.4 KB).

Providing supplementary nitrogen improves cattle's ability to utilise low-quality roughage, leading to improved animal performance. Read the Agnote nitrogen supplementary feeding PDF (31.9 KB).

Although feeding urea is often the most cost-effective method of nitrogen supplementation, there are a number of risk factors that need to be considered.

For more information about the circumstances that can lead to the poisoning and death of stock read the Agnote urea poisoning in cattle PDF (136.7 KB).

Seasonal changes in soil phosphorus

Read the outcome of a study of phosphorus and the impact that has on pasture. Get the seasonal changes in soil phosphorus concentrations report PDF (98.0 KB).


Silage is a preserved feed for ruminants made from chopped and fermented green fodder.

Cutting feed for silage is less worrisome than cutting for hay as it is cut green and can be made with few risks. This is an advantage when late Wet Season rains are unpredictable.

Read the Agnote making silage in the NT PDF (112.6 KB).

Silage can be gathered into round bales. It is baled greener than hay, wrapped in plastic film and allowed to ferment into silage. This can be more convenient when feeding out to stock and when storage bunkers are unavailable.

Read the Agnote making round-baled silage PDF (228.1 KB).

Supplementing livestock using water medication

Read the results of a study into the effectiveness of water medication to supplement breeder cattle in spinifex country PDF (845.5 KB).

Read below for the results of studies and other nutritional advice.

Feeding Australian commercial cattle in South East Asia

Read the guidelines for feeding cattle in South East Asia feedlots PDF (2.6 MB) using locally-available feed.

Feeding Australian commercial cattle in the Philippines

Read the guidelines for managing and feeding cattle in feedlots in the Philippines PDF (3.2 MB).

Feeding bans to prevent mad cow disease

Exotic diseases such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), more commonly known as mad cow disease, have the potential to devastate the nation’s beef industry.

To stop mad cow disease entering Australia it is illegal to feed Australian cattle and sheep on animal products.

Read the Agnote cattle feeding restrictions to prevent mad cow disease PDF (286.2 KB).

Guidelines for a feedlot operation

Feedlotting is the practice of putting cattle in a confined area and feeding them a predetermined diet.

Profit is earned when the resulting carcase is worth more than the cost of feed and other inputs.

When establishing a feedlot, there are many factors to consider including slope of the site for ideal drainage and minimum space requirements at feed and water troughs.

For more information read the Agnote basic guidelines for a feedlot operation PDF (71.2 KB).

Using centrosema hay for live export cattle

Read the outcomes of a trial done at Berrimah Farm into the use of centrosema hay as a fodder source for the NT live export industry PDF (472.0 KB).

Vitamins and stress for transported cattle

A thorough literature review failed to find a study that could directly attribute a reduction in stress and therefore shrinkage during transport with vitamin injections in cattle.

You can read the conclusions of the review into whether vitamin injections protected cattle against stress in live export cattle. Get the Technote vitamins and stress.

Last updated: 05 June 2019

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