Livestock Feed selection – Evaluation of Feed Ingredients

The achievement of proper nutrition with the aid of animal by-products has, for centuries, enriched the human diet. It is, therefore, essential to perpetuate this critical role of animal by-products in the human diet in a wholesome and sustainable version. Feed costs can make up 70% or more of the operating costs in an animal production unit, especially in zero grazing and confined animals. To make the most of feed value, feed must supply the nutrients required. Unfortunately, 50% of the feed may have nutritional problems that reduce commercial animal performance. Many of the problems found in animal feed result from errors in the mixing process. Good feed mixing techniques will ensure the best quality feed and the most economical use of feed costs.


Feed Ingredients

Evaluating feed ingredients can accomplish two things. First, by constantly checking the nutrient content of ingredients, you can adjust some formulas to make the best use of ingredients and reduce feed costs. You can also determine which ingredients, in addition to grains, are suited for your farm. The nutrient content of many feed ingredients often varies. The variation can affect both the quality and the cost of the complete feed. To get a good evaluation of feed ingredients, samples should be taken from each load delivered. Using a grain probe, take several samples from the front, middle, and rear of the truck, then combine these samples to get a representative sample of that load. If this method is not possible, you are advised to take several samples while the truck is unloading. Although the combined sample may not be as representative of the load as when a probe is used, it will be better than a single sample.


There are many alternative ingredients available for use in animal feed. Some are inexpensive but do not contain the nutrient content and quality of the ingredient being replaced. Others appear expensive, but they reduce feed costs when properly formulated. Still, others are less expensive than the ingredient to be replaced and have both the nutrient content and quality. Some commercial products are often difficult to evaluate, as the feed tag supplies the only information on the product. By law, the tag must include a guaranteed analysis, a list of ingredients, and instructions for feeding. Unfortunately, there is often too little information on the tag for a thorough evaluation. 

Complete supplements are the most difficult to evaluate because of their complexity. A complete supplement should complement the grain used by supplying amino acids, calcium, phosphorus, salt, trace minerals, and vitamins. Because of the increased use of synthetic amino acids, supplements are even more difficult to evaluate. The supplement tag will provide some of the information required for evaluation. However, the producer using a complete supplement must rely on the manufacturer for additional information.

Normally, commercial base mixes should supply the calcium, phosphorus, salt, trace minerals, and vitamins not found in adequate amounts in the grain and soya bean meal. Contains the minimum levels of selected nutrients that a base mix should contain at various feeding levels. By considering cost and nutrient content, you can better evaluate alternative feed ingredients. 


Quality Control

A quality control program is the first step in producing quality animal feed on the farm. A good program is needed to monitor the feed quality before feeding and mixing. The key component of a feed monitoring program is a routine analysis of feed and feed ingredients. A routine sampling program for all feed ingredients and mixed feeds combined with good feed records-can improve feed conversion, growth, and feed costs.


Mixed Feeds

Routinely analyzing farm-mixed feeds is the only effective way to monitor feed-mixing techniques. The method you use to sample mixed feed depends on your reason for the analysis. To determine if the mixing time is appropriate, take three or more samples from one batch of feed periodically as the mill empties. The mixing time is adequate if all the sample analyses are close to the same. For a routine evaluation of the feeding program, use the same sampling technique, but combine all the samples before the analysis to determine if the right amounts of all ingredients were added. If problems exist in certain areas, collect feed samples from each feeder. This last method may not accurately evaluate the mixing process because of separation during delivery and in the feeder.


Feed Records

Another method of evaluating a feed mixing system is record keeping. The amounts of all ingredients used should be the same as the total amount of feed mixed. The records needed to determine this are fairly simple. Record the number of batches of each diet mixed, the amount of each ingredient purchased, and the feed formulations. Keeping records will also help in evaluating animal performance (feed conversion) and operating costs.


Guidelines for evaluating a feed mixing system

Any feed mixing system is as good as the effort going into it. Even a slight improvement in feed quality could mean savings in feed costs. A farmer can use the following steps as a guide for evaluating his/her own system.

1. Follow instructions on feed tags or formulations exactly.

2. Sample and analyze feeds regularly

3. Have formulations adjusted by a competent nutritionist as the nutrient content of ingredients or the ingredients themselves change.

4. Compare ingredient costs and feeding value before buying a “cheap” ingredient.

5. Routinely calibrate the proportioner (metering mill).

6. Keep all feed handling equipment (mixers, augers, bins, feeders) in good repair and clean condition.

7. Weigh all ingredients before mixing (batch system).

8. Avoid under-mixing and over-mixing.


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