Key Factors of Livestock Projects - Part 2: Nutrition
If you missed part one of this five-part series, check it out here.
Pool parties are fun. They are a lot more fun if there is water in the pool. And even more fun if the chemistry balance of that water is correct.
Livestock nutrition is a lot like filling a pool with water. In every species, what the animal eats will directly relate to the feed conversion and average daily gain.
You must start with the end in mind. Knowing your baseline and your desired finish line is the first step to creating an educated nutrition plan. In market animals, you must know what weights are in the legal range for your show, but also what weight is appropriate for your animals frame size. There is no feasible way to share this information through a single article. Your best bet is to work with your breeder or other leaders if you are unsure. In breeding animals, I typically identify what I don’t want the animal to look like at the end of the project and go from there. Instead of using weights to guide my feed program in breeding animals, I take pictures. This takes some skill because you want to view the animal from the same distance, angles and lighting each time to make a comparison of how the animal is developing.
Your plan should account for what metrics you will follow. This typically means average daily gain and feed conversion. The plan should include what the goals are for each of these metrics. Limit major changes to your feed program to these goals not being reached.
For example, on beef cattle, I feed 3% of the body weight divided into two feedings a day as our initial plan. This tells me how much feed to start with. The contents of that feed mix is determined by how I want the animal to look. After 14 days, I weigh the animal and determine an average daily gain. I also calculate my feed conversion by knowing the total pounds of feed the animal consumed and how much it gained. If this isn’t meeting expectations, we make changes. Comparing photographs and evaluating the composition will help you to change the mix of ingredients in the feed.
One foundation of successful feeding is consistency. You can’t determine the effectiveness of a specific ingredient or supplement in a short amount of time. Give your feed plan time to work before making ill informed decisions.
All of this makes sure you have the water in the pool, but what about balancing the chemistry of that water?
This is where understanding what you feed matters, not just how to feed. This topic of designing feed rations is an entire world of information, rules and schools of thought. We will sum up the information most pertinent to showing livestock, but animal nutrition is a vast area of study that would be impossible to fit into one single article.
The first place to begin is understanding macronutrients. There are three macronutrients: proteins, lipids (fats), and carbohydrates. Each feed ingredient is a different ratio of these nutrients. Some ingredients may have more carbohydrates, some may have more lipids. The mix of ingredients should be based on the needs of the species and adjustments made for that individual animal. The ratio of these nutrients should shift as the project develops. Macronutrients arguably have the greatest impact to the development of a show animal.
Micronutrients are the minerals and vitamins that are present in feed in much lower quantities. These are important for joint health, eye sight, hair coat, mental health, and even digestion. Typically the way these nutrients are manipulated are through the use of formulated supplements. Additives like these can be used to improve joint health, decrease subcutaneous fat to create a more toned appearance, or to improve the hair quality. Micronutrients can move an animal from decent to great when fed appropriately.
When the nutrient profile is balanced correctly the feeding plan is written out and balanced, showing animals gets a lot more fun. An animal receiving the proper nutrition is less likely to fall ill and more likely to meet its genetic potential.