Keep your livestock healthy and save money on feed by properly storing feed to reduce waste and contamination.
Keeping livestock well-nourished and safe are top priorities for hobby farmers who raise cattle, goats, chickens or other animals, and providing them with top-quality feeds will pay off in the form of superior milk, meat, fiber or eggs. While this exchange is common sense, it’s easy to find yourself struggling to hold up your end of the bargain during a year with rough weather or escalating feed prices. Now more than ever, hobby farmers are closely watching their budgets, but your livestock cannot suffer as a result. Use the tips below to safely and economically manage your livestock-feed stores so you have healthy animals and get quality farm products in return.
1. Store feed in a cool, dry place.
In the same way that you put up your food in the pantry or the refrigerator to extend its shelf life, take care with livestock feed to preserve its quality. By placing feed in a cool, dry place with proper ventilation, you will keep the feed fresher longer and it will remain safe for animal consumption.
"Heat and moisture will speed the degradation of some vitamins and cause fats in feeds to turn rancid faster,” says hobby farmer Dr. Jonathan Townsend, DVM, assistant professor of dairy-production medicine at Purdue University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. "Moisture will also cause a breakdown of pelleted feeds and lead to spoilage, often with mold growth. Some molds can be harmful to our cattle, horses and small ruminants.”
To promote freshness, keep the feed in an area away from direct sunlight, such as a barn, wooden shed or even shade shelter, and place the containers on a raised surface, recommends Jim Kantz, a cow/calf field specialist at the South Dakota State University Extension. "[Using] pallets, oversized rocks or crushed rocks that allow air to flow beneath these feeds and keep moisture away from them is important to a longer shelf life,” he says.
2. Choose an appropriate storage container.
Placing commercial feed in a storage container will help preserve freshness and prevent rodents from penetrating the packaging.
"Mice, raccoons, opossums and birds will obviously eat unprotected feed, causing a financial loss, but can also contaminate the feed with bacteria, such as Salmonella and Leptospira, that can cause animal diseases,” Townsend says.
While a sealed plastic or rubber container is an acceptable, cost-effective option for feed storage, a metal container, such as a galvanized trash can with a tight-sealing lid, will be more effective at keeping out pests.
3. Grow or purchase quality forage.
Providing high-quality forage, whether grown on your farm or purchased from someone you trust, is key to giving your livestock with the nutrition they need and saving money in the long-run, according to Townsend. "Additional supplementation of protein or energy is only required if the animal is pregnant, is being exercised heavily, or at a higher production level of either milk, meat or fiber,” he says.
However, as Kantz points out, record-high feed prices and extreme weather conditions, such as droughts, can make it difficult for farmers to find high-quality forages. He suggests farmers remain open to finding alternative feeds or feed resources to help supplement their supplies.
4. Stock up on grains.
Whole grains, such as corn, keep for a long time and can be purchased in bulk if there’s a sale or another discounted buying opportunity. As with other feeds, keep whole grains stored in a sealed metal container in a cool, dry place to preserve freshness and palatability. Whole grains keep longer than processed grains—up to a year or longer, according to Katz.
5. Purchase only the supplemental feed you need.
While it might be tempting to stock up on supplemental feeds during sales, over-buying could result in wasted feed and wasted money.
"For commercial feeds that contain supplemental vitamins and minerals and possibly some additional fat, I would recommend only purchasing what can be used in 1 to 2 months’ time,” Townsend says. "This will reduce the risk for feed to spoil, for fat to go rancid, and for the fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) to degrade and lose potency.”
Where you store the feed will be a big factor in keeping it fresh, but note that some feeds will spoil faster than others. Pelleted feeds, for example, keep better in warm conditions than texturized feeds containing molasses, which spoil when kept where it’s hot and humid.
Additionally, only give animals the amount of supplemental feed necessary to keep them healthy. "Don’t buy more than is required to achieve the level of performance or production required,” Townsend says. "Over-feeding our animals costs money and often results in over-conditioned animals that are at risk for more health problems.”
6. Accurately label feeds.
Commercial feeds often contain nutritional supplements or medications appropriate for specific livestock species, and their labels recommend consumption levels based on age or weight, Katz says. Mislabeling or not labeling the feed at all could result in costly and sometimes devastating effects to your livestock.
"Examples would be cattle feeds with the additive monensin, which is an ionophore antibiotic that controls coccidian,” Townsend says. "Unfortunately, monensin can be toxic and deadly to horses at much lower levels than in cattle.” Additionally, cattle feeds containing supplemental copper can be toxic to sheep and, to a lesser degree, to goats.
To ensure you know what you’re feeding your animals, cut the feed tag from the original packaging and store it along with the feed in the container. Alternatively, print and accurately transfer the feed information to the feed tags below, and secure the tag to the storage container.
7. Feed thoughtfully.
The way you feed your animals plays a major role in economically managing feed stores. Only give your animals the amount of feed they require each day, and use raised feeders to reduce feed loss and manure and urine contamination, Townsend recommends. Katz notes that hand-feeding, while labor-intensive, is another option.
"In these systems, it’s important to provide additional bunk and feeder space so dominant individuals do not deprive shy animals from the intake they require on a daily basis,” Katz says.
Experiment to find a feeding system that works best with time schedule and for your animals to ensure they receive the nutrition they need and that waste is minimized.
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