By Emily Folk
Modern livestock and animal feed is made by blending carefully selected ingredients, including essential nutrients like proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and antibiotics. A high-quality feed with these nutrients will improve the health of your animals while also enhancing the quality of the end-product, such as meat, milk and eggs.
Some feed is grown specifically for animals. Others are a by-product from crop processed for human consumption. When it comes to finding the best feed for your livestock, you should look at the needs the specific animals on your farm.
The majority of feed consumed by cattle should be forage with supplemental minerals like salt, calcium, phosphorus and more. But when the environment changes, the quality and quantity of forage can drop, meaning feed is needed to maintain a healthy diet. When looking for cattle feed, keep in mind it comes in several different forms, including pelletized feed, sweet feed and block feed. In spring, pasture cattle will need feed with high magnesium to prevent grass tetany, a magnesium deficiency which causes muscle twitching, fast respiration and a stiff gait.
Sheep mostly graze for their food, eating grass, clover and other common pasture plants. When fresh forage isn't available, sheep will need feed to supplement their diet. The most common options include hay, silage and crop by-products. Animals with higher nutritional needs, such as pregnant or nursing ewes, are often fed grain, the seed from crops like corn, wheat and oats. Proteins such as soybean meal and cottonseed meal can be mixed in with the grain, along with vitamins and minerals.
Similar to sheep, goats should be left to graze in the pasture, consuming natural plants and grasses such as clover, millet and sorghum. Many farmers include hay as an essential source of nutrition as well, especially in winter seasons. Alfalfa and clover hays are exceptionally high in protein and other vital nutrients. When looking at feed, added vitamins and minerals, including phosphorus, salt and calcium, are necessary for proper growth and production. You can also utilize garden and kitchen scraps, like eggshells, orange peels and garlic skins, which goats will happily eat.
Hay and roughage is a critical part of any horse's diet, with a high-quality forage able to meet basic nutritional requirements. Eating roughage is healthy for a horse's digestive system, and its recommended a horse eat one to two percent of their body weight in roughage each day. For horses who spend a lot of time in their stalls and don't have the opportunity to graze, grains or concentrates can act as a nutritional supplement. Avoid straight grains like oats, corns, and barley and always feed in small increments at a time.
The quality of chicken feed has greatly improved over the years, but some brands still don't offer all the necessary nutrition your animals need. When searching for a feed, be sure it contains protein, amino acids — the most common are lysine and methionine — and vitamins. You should also select a feed with fiber and enzymes, both of which aid with digestion. There are many convenient options for complete chicken feed available so you don't have to add in supplements and minerals.
Pigs are different than other farm animals in they don't tend to graze in the pasture. In fact, pigs are a monogastric animal, meaning they only have a single stomach and are inefficient at digesting fiber. It's recommended to instead feed pigs a complete feed or mixed diet formulated to contain the right amount of protein. Pigs are omnivores, and their diets can be supplemented with a range of foods, including fishmeal, soybean meal, salt, limestone, fresh fruits and vegetables.
The Best Feeds for Your Livestock
Keep in mind that animals require the same basic nutrients as humans. A healthy diet and high-quality feed are needed to maintain health and ensure animals are producing the best end-product possible. And most animals require vitamins and minerals like salt and other supplements. If you are searching for the best feed for your livestock, look for a complete or high-quality option that will offer the most benefits.
About the author: Emily is a sustainability writer and avid gardener. You can read more of her work on her site, Conservation Folks, where she writes about helping tomorrow’s planet today.