Knowing what you have and what you need are important components

If you have ever considered developing your own feed ration for your livestock, no matter what species, you’ve probably come up with a list of inquiries about the process. Ozarks Farm and Neighbor checked in with some local experts to help narrow the list down to three questions. 

1. What Nutrients Do My Livestock Need?

Feedstuffs supply nutrients. Nutrients are substances needed for life which must be taken in from the environment. Ration balancing means that requirements have been estimated and intake of nutrients have been arranged to meet estimated nutrient requirements, according to David W. Freeman and Kris Hiney, Oklahoma State University Extension Equine specialists. Developing and balancing a ration requires research. Luckily, producers have quality resources to assist with this.

“Extension publications are a good place to start with gathering information about the nutrient needs of livestock. These can be obtained with the help of an Extension agent or Internet search,” said Dr. Shane Gadberry, professor of ruminant nutrition at the University of Arkansas.

2. How Much of Those Nutrients Are They Currently Getting?

Once you’ve done your research and you know what your animals need in their diet, you’ll need to determine the amount of necessary nutrients they are already receiving. “This can be the more challenging step because in many instances, the livestock producer doesn’t know how much feed was eaten,” Gadberry said.

“While you can usually tell how much grain your livestock are eating if you feed strictly out of a trough, it can far more difficult to determine what is being eaten if you’re feeding hay or your stock is on pasture. In this case, we usually rely on methods to predict intake from body weight and dietary energy.

“The mention of dietary energy leads to the second part of determining how much nutrients livestock are getting from their diet,” he went on to say. “Purchased feeds come with a guaranteed analysis that shows minimums and maximums for various nutrients. However, the complete nutrient profile may not be disclosed, only the portion that is guaranteed is shown. It is important to know if the feed is a complete feed or if it is intended to be a supplement. Always read the directions and warnings. In the case of livestock eating a forage-based diet, the common goal is to supplement forage deficiencies.”

When considering a supplement for your forage-fed animals, it’s important not to fall into the trap of keeping up with the your neighbor.

“The supplement that is ideal for your neighbor may not be ideal for you. Forage quality, especially baled forage quality, is highly variable. Your neighbor’s hay may be low protein, while your hay is low in digestibility,” said Gadberry. “Because of the variation we see in forage quality, I always recommend sending forage samples to a lab for nutrient analysis. I advise our Extension agents to never make supplemental protein or energy feed recommendations for livestock on a forage-based diet without a forage test to support that recommendation.”

University of Missouri Extension Livestock Specialist Eldon Cole agrees, and strongly recommends, “Test, don’t guess,” when it comes to your livestock’s forage.

3. What’s Missing?

“The last step is determining what is missing by comparing the total daily nutrients being provided to the total daily nutrients needed,” advised Gadberry. “From this, one knows what appears to be coming up short – protein, energy, minerals, vitamins. It may also reveal what may be excessive too. This information helps determine what supplements are needed. One of greatest supplemental feed challenges is energy. If you look at a nutrient label on a sack of cat food or dog food, you might find the calculated energy density, something rarely shown on a sack of livestock feed. If you need supplemental calories (energy), ask for a calculated value.”


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