"Garbage in, garbage out," "what you feed is what you get" (my variation), but the best line I ever heard was from Darrell Rankins (Extension scientist): "don’t starve the profit out of your animals." All these expressions capture the concept that quality is important; and, in the case of nutrition, quality is important to insuring your animals are healthy, well-conditioned, developing properly and prolific. No, that does not mean go out and buy the most expensive feed for your animals, nor does it mean you should over-feed them to the point they are obese nor is feeding an excessively high protein feed justified either. My basic advice is to know your animal’s stage of development in relationship to their nutrient requirements by periodically assessing its body-condition and using common sense.
To better illustrate what I am talking about, take a look at the table from Extension publication UNP 0081, "Ensuring Nutrition for Goats."
Keep in mind, the table breaks goats into breeds (meat and fiber) and groups based on stage of production: young (weanling and yearling), dry (pregnant) or lactating (average and high) does, and bucks. Please note, this information does not address lactating dairy does, which will have higher nutrient requirements as they should be putting much of their energy into producing at least a gallon of milk per day (excluding pygmies) at their peak.
Proper nutrition is a readily used term having broad implications and variations. Some animals may be "easy keepers" and seem to thrive on little or nothing extra, consistently produce twins and retain good health. Other extremes are goats or sheep consuming vast amounts of food while only producing singles and having sporadic health issues and parasite vulnerability. The table serves as a basis for proper nutrition, but actual needs may vary. Hypothetical situation: a weanling goat needs 2.0 lbs of daily feed at 14 percent protein. Someone decides to cut corners by feeding 10 percent sweet feed, which "shorts" the goat by 4 percent. Assuming they try and make it up with hay, your average hay is probably about 10 percent protein. Although that may seem balanced, it will still be short on protein. Without going into balancing rations or economics, let’s just say the animal is being shorted on nutrition and needs to consume more low quality hay than could possibly make up for the shortage. So, one way to fill the gap would be to offer high protein legumes for grazing like clover, sericea lespedeza, chicory or alfalfa. The important thing is to try and provide a well-balanced diet which insures adequate nutrition while maintaining a well-conditioned animal.
As I said earlier, periodically evaluating the body condition of individual animals plays an important role. Depending upon your option for evaluating body condition, choices are from one to three, one to five and one to ten. I prefer the one to five range; one being poor or emaciated, five being obese and three or four being ideal. Record-keeping on a score sheet helps track variations and allows for making notes as to speculation for fluctuations. Records allow a manager to track performance and provide possible justifications for culling animals continually needing special attention or treatment.
Common sense is what puts all of this together; while it is a rather large "umbrella," it can be done. Follow the guidelines for nutrition, adjust nutritional provisions accordingly and periodically evaluate the body condition of your animals. If your grazing/browsing materials are not enough, provide supplemental nutrition in the form of (1) hay and/or (2) grain feed. Most times it is more economically feasible (practical) to use hay as a first choice of nutritional supplement rather than grains (commercially formulated rations, grains, etc.). Some options to commercially formulated rations include corn gluten pellets, soybean hull pellets, cotton seed, etc. Like all things in life, be practical. Adjust provisions as deemed necessary without compromising the health, productivity and vigor of your animals! Keep in mind, animals, farm situations, financial resources, etc. will vary from farm to farm; therefore, manage accordingly to what works best for your situation!
Robert Spencer is a contributing writer from Florence.