As a progressive livestock farmer, you want to improve the health of your animals as well as earn better profits.

This is what we're going to cover in this article:

  1. Understanding optimal nutrition
    • Energy Value
    • Protein Content
    • Minerals & Vitamins
    • Water
  2. Managing your budgets
  3. Utilising your pastures

In most operations such as breeding and disease management, both these goals go hand-in-hand.

But when it comes to feeding your animals, costs and nutrition can result in a conflict. Because feed dollars spent to achieve better nutrition don’t always result in immediate profits or improved production.

Often farmers and managers face a difficult question.

Should they optimise costs and get lower quality feed?

Or should they optimise nutrition and spend more on feed?

This is a tough question. And one that is worth exploring in more detail.

In this article, I help you take a more objective look at animal nutrition needs and feed costs. More importantly, I will help you find a strategy to provide optimal nutrition without spending too much.

To do this, let's begin by understanding what optimal nutrition is in the first place.

Understanding optimal nutrition

Optimal nutrition will provide enough quantity and quality feed to help your animals grow, maintain body weight and remain healthy. It will also help your animals reach their full genetic potential and help them produce better immune responses to diseases.

As you know, all animals need adequate amounts of energy, protein, minerals and vitamins in their diets. Cattle, goat and sheep are no different. So, let’s look at each one of these components, in more detail.

Energy Value

First, let’s look at energy value in the diet of your animals. Metabolisable Energy (ME), is often expressed as megajoules of energy per kilogram of dry matter (MJ/ kg DM). This simply means how much energy your animal can get from a kilo of dry matter.

ME will differ based on the type of feed. Most improved pasture varieties such as alfalfa, clover, lucerne and ryegrass have ME values between 11 and 12 MJ/ Kg DM. While cereal crops such as barley, wheat, sorghum and rice have ME values between 13 and 15 MJ/ Kg DM.



Metabolisable Energy (ME); Total Digestible Nutrients (TDN). (Source: Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food 1984)

Live Weight (Kg)Daily Energy Requirements
ME (MJ/d)TDN (Kg/d)
100171.2
150221.5
200271.9
250312.2
300362.5
350402.8
400453.1
450493.4
500543.8
550594.1
600634.4


Protein Content

Next, let’s look at protein content. It’s often expressed as a % of dry matter. It is essential to realise that energy and protein requirements will cost you the most. So, it's crucial to ensure that you get quality protein under a reasonable budget.

Improved pasture varieties such as clover and lucerne have a high protein content of about 14% to 15% per Kg DM. Most cereals have lower protein content in the range of 7% to 11% per Kg DM.



(Source: Target 10 1999)

Milk ProductionCrude Protein Requirements (%)
Early-lactation16 - 18
Mid-lactation14 - 16
Late-lactation12 - 14
Dry10 - 12


In case you don’t meet protein requirements through grazing and feeds alone, concentrates such as oil cakes and fishmeal that have a very high protein content of 33% and 63% can help you address the deficit.

Minerals & Vitamins

Animals need major minerals, such as calcium (Ca), phosphorus (P), potassium (K), magnesium (Mg), sodium (Na) and sulphur (S) for many physiological functions. Adequate availability of these major minerals will ensure higher production.

In addition to this, your animals also need minor minerals, such as copper (Cu), cobalt (Co), selenium (Se), zinc (Zn) and a range of essential vitamins in smaller trace quantities to maintain growth and health.

Because minerals and vitamins account for a tiny proportion of daily dry matter intake in your animal’s diet, it can sometimes be overlooked. But your animals need it to develop strong bones, improve immunity, and maintain good nervous system functions.

A good mineral and vitamin supplementation program will cost you approximately $15 to $25 per head per year. So don’t skimp on this small investment, because it will pay for itself, several times over, in terms of improved production.

And don’t forget to get professional advice from a vet or farm advisor before starting your animals on a supplement program.

Water

In addition to the above components, your animals also need a lot of clean water. For instance, lactating dairy cows in hot seasons need about 60 to 70 L of water per day for maintenance, plus an extra 4 to 5 L for each litre of milk produced. So, high yielding cows need about 150 to 200 litres of water during a hot day.

Managing your budgets

Now that we understand what optimal nutrition is let’s turn our attention towards your feed budgets.

Several combinations of forage, feed and concentrate ingredients can help you meet your optimal nutrition requirements and improve production. And as you know, each of them has different prices.

Typically, farmers calculate current feed costs per animal by taking an average of all feed expenses across all your animals. You can use this average feed cost to optimise your expenses. But it isn’t enough.

In addition to this, I will encourage you to also think about your feed costs in relation to your productivity. This will encourage you to go beyond savings, and think about earning more profits.

For example, let’s take some sample numbers of a dairy farmer to calculate average feed costs per animal:



Table 1: Sample feed costs per animal.

Feed IngredientIngredient CostAmount Fed per AnimalAverage Cost per Animal
Forage Pasture$ 0.10 per kg15 kg per day$ 1.50 per animal per day
Corn Silage$ 0.30 per kg15 kg per day$ 4.50 per animal per day
Lucerne Hay$ 0.15 per kg3 kg per day$ 0.45 per animal per day
Soybean Meal$ 0.40 per kg2 kg per day$ 0.80 per animal per day
Supplements$ 0.700.5 kg per day$ 0.35 per animal per day
Total Average Cost $ 7.60 per animal per day


Let’s say that the farmer in this example has 100 dairy cows, and each on average produces about 30 litres of milk per day. And that he can sell his milk at the farm gate for 50 cents a litre.

Because he wants to earn more profits, he is now looking to save on feed costs. By looking at his average feed costs, he might be tempted to eliminate alfalfa hay, soybean meal and probably even supplements from his feed composition.

Logically, this makes sense because collectively, they add up to a tiny volume, yet account for more than 21% of his expenses. The farmer might think that he can save a lot of money this way. But, this can be counter-productive if he doesn’t take into account its impact on production.



Table 2: Short-sighted slashing of feed budgets may save costs, but will also result in lower profits:

Feed IngredientIngredient CostAmount Fed per AnimalAverage Cost per Animal
Forage Pasture$ 0.10 per kg15 kg per day$ 1.50 per animal per day
Corn Silage$ 0.30 per kg15 kg per day$ 4.50 per animal per day
Lucerne Hay$ 0.15 per kg3 kg per day$ 0.45 per animal per day
Soybean Meal$ 0.40 per kg2 kg per day$ 0.80 per animal per day
Supplements$ 0.700.5 kg per day$ 0.35 per animal per day
Total Average Cost $ 6.00 per animal per day


Because this cheaper feed composition doesn’t have enough protein and essential minerals, the farmer’s milk production might decrease by 15%. This decrease in production will result in a daily loss of 225 dollars.



Table 3: Comparing the Lowest Feed Cost VS Optimal Nutrition Scenarios

Lowest Feed Cost Scenario Optimal Nutrition Scenario
Feed Costs: $6.00 * 100 cows = $600 per day

Income: $0.50 * 25.5 L * 100 cows = $1,275 per day
Feed Costs: $7.60 * 100 cows = $760 per day

Income: $0.50 * 30 L * 100 cows = $1,500 per day


At the same time, he would have saved only 160 dollars in reduced feed costs. This means that this farmer would face a net loss of 65 dollars, every day if he followed the cheapest feed approach.

But, the story doesn't end there. In addition to this, his animals might also develop compromised immune systems because of poor nutrition, which may result in further financial losses in case of a disease outbreak.

It’s a sub-optimal decision on all levels. I think you get the picture. This is why I argue that you should take financial decisions based on your farm’s productivity.

Utilising your pastures

On the other hand, a smart farmer will focus on improving his productivity, rather than merely saving costs. On doing some analysis, he may realise that feed costs typically represent 40 to 50% of total dairy business costs.

He quickly realises that he can further utilise his pasture, more intensively by planting improved pasture species such as ryegrass, lucerne and clover. This strategy will also help him meet optimal energy, protein and nutrient needs at a lower cost.

He takes into account the costs of seeding, fertilising and maintaining his pasture. This adds up to a total expense worth about $ 2,000 per hectare. Given that about 10,000 kilograms of DM can be harvested from each hectare every year, his pasture will cost him about $ 0.3 per kilogram.

So his feed costs will look like this:



Table 4: How utilising pastures fully can reduce feed costs and improve profits

Feed IngredientIngredient CostAmount Fed per AnimalAverage Cost per Animal
Free Range Pasture$0.20 per kg25 kg per day$5.00 per animal per day
Corn Silage$0.30 per kg5 kg per day$1.50 per animal per day
Supplements0.700.5 kg per day$0.35 per animal per day
Total Average Cost $6.85 per animal per day


Because he has designed his feed for optimum nutrition, milk production levels remain at 30 litres per day. By taking decisions based on productivity, this farmer earns almost 200 dollars more in additional daily profits. This is more than a 20% increase in profits.



Table 5: Compared to the lowest feed cost scenario, utilising pasture results in 20% more profits

Per DayLowest Feed CostOptimal NutritionUtilising Pastures
Feed:$6.00 * 100
= $600
$7.60 * 100 cows
= $760
$6.35 * 100 cows
= $685
Income:$0.50 * 25.5 L*100
= $1,275
$0.50 * 30 L * 100
= $1,500
$0.50 * 30 L * 100
= $1,500
Profits:$675 per day$740 per day$815 per day


So to sum it up: focus on increasing productivity and not just on cost savings.

And remember, these are fictional figures to demonstrate a point. Your scenario may be vastly different given your proximity to cheap feed, water and supplements. Try running your own costs and let us know what you calculate in the comments.

That brings us to an end. If you have any questions for me, make sure to ask them as a comment below. I will personally answer them for you.

Before we go, I want to tell you that pasture.io can help you measure and manage your pasture automatically. This can help you earn thousands of dollars in additional profits every year.

So check out Pasture.io, it might change your life.

Happy Farming!

- The Dedicated Team of Pasture.io, 10 September 2020