I am asked from time to time about what makes a feed different? On a daily basis, I talk with producers who want to know what goes into formulating a feed and what makes a feed different while the feed tags appear to be very similar. As a nutritionist, I have to consider several things when formulating a quality feed. In what market will the feed sell, what species of animal will the feed be provided to, what are the nutrient specifications to be reached, what are the nutritional requirements of that animal, what stage of production is the animal at, what federal regulations concern this feed, will the feed be medicated, will the formulated feed be of nutrient quality and will all this be done at a competitive cost to the producer?
I want to discuss these issues as a way to inform you of what goes into producing a quality feed at a competitive price that will meet your animal’s performance needs. Let’s look at each of these considerations going into the decision-making process of feed manufacturing.
My first obligation when formulating the feed is to the animal itself. With this in mind, my first consideration is to know what species of animal will consume the feed. While you may think all species of animals have the same nutritional requirements, this is not always true. The protein requirements across species can be different from a quality standpoint. Some animals may have a different requirement for by-pass protein and some may require different levels of soluble protein. Some animals require certain trace minerals and vitamins while others do not. Some species need additional fiber for proper digestion while some need very little fiber due to their inability to utilize fibrous feeds. Some examples are: A goat has a requirement and can utilize copper while a sheep has a much lower requirement for copper and can build up toxic levels of the mineral; cattle can synthesize their own B vitamins in the rumen while pigs cannot; horses cannot utilize urea while cattle can convert urea to microbial protein and rabbits have a need for a high quality fiber in their feed while hogs do a poor job of breaking fiber down. What may be even harder to believe is there is also a difference within species that must be accounted for when formulating feeds. A Jersey cow and a Holstein cow have different requirements for trace minerals. A stressed calf cannot synthesize B vitamins while non-stressed cattle do make their own B vitamins. I tell you all this so you might see a lot more goes into a feed formulation than what you might think.
The next consideration for a nutritionist is to know what the animal’s nutrient requirements are. As the animal grows and matures, the nutrient requirement for protein, energy, minerals and vitamins will change as well. If we offer a feed specifically for a certain type animal, then I want to make sure the feed meets the requirements of that animal. I do not want to produce a feed and call it a creep feed if that feed does not contain the nutrients to meet the needs of a calf eating a creep feed. Know your feed dealer and manufacturer so you can depend on the feed they produce and sell. We want you to know, when you buy a feed from your local Quality Co-op, you are getting a feed meeting the nutrient requirements of the target animal when used according to the feeding directions. I also have to know the stage of production the animal is in. The nutrient requirements for animals change based on the stage of production. A nursing cow has a lot of different requirements than a dry cow. An idle horse has a lot different requirements than a horse being ridden every day. Knowing the animal’s stage of production is a very important consideration when selecting the proper feed.
Another important consideration when creating a complete feed is to understand any federal regulations that might come into play. The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) have regulations in place as to what medications and at what levels they can be used in a feed. We have to follow these rules when formulating a medicated feed for producers. This also includes the mixing of different drugs into a finished product. We cannot mix certain medications together and be able to tag the feed and it be a legal feed according to these standards. We are asked from time to time to mix feeds containing different levels or types of drugs and we have guidelines to go by before it can be mixed. These measures are in place to not only protect the animal but to also protect humans who might consume product from these animals.
Another consideration is will the feed be of nutrient quality. I am asked from time to time to blend a feed for a certain price. This can be a very simple process for a nutritionist, but a very poor product for the end-consumer. If you have a certain feed in mind, make sure you provide all this information to your feed dealer. A protein percentage does not provide enough information to formulate a quality feed. A feed can meet protein specifications using several different ingredients with some being much higher in quality than others. When purchasing a feed, also ask for certain levels of minerals and vitamins, along with fat and lower fiber levels. If you will be more specific in your request, then I can assure you that you will be pricing a similar-quality feed from the different dealers you are working with and through.
In conclusion, you may be wondering why knowing all of this should be important to you. The reason is that we continue to see more and more groups who either blend commodities together or who try to mix feeds and sell to producers. I want you to be aware a lot goes into feed formulations and it is not as simple as picking out a feed based solely on its name. Please be aware of this when selecting a feed company and know what they are offering you as a producer. The old saying of: "if it sounds too good to be true…" works in this business as well. A similar-quality feed will be similar in price and a feed not similar in quality can be very different in price.
Jimmy Hughes is AFC’s animal nutritionist. He looks forward to hearing from you or visiting with you in the future.