Nutrition should be one of the most important livestock-management priorities on your hobby farm. Unfortunately, itâ€™s often overlooked, which can lead to problems for your livestock and frustration for you.Â While individual livestock species have different requirements for each nutrient, the basic nutrients for all livestock are the same: They require fresh, clean water; specific amounts of protein and energy (fats, carbohydrates, etc.); and specific ratios of vitamins and minerals. All of these nutrients work together to keep your animals healthy and productive.
Starting Your Nutrition Plan
When deciding on a nutrition plan for your livestock, there are a few things you need to take into consideration:
- Is this animal producing a product? This can include meat, eggs, milk or even just work around the farm.
- What is the starting condition of this animal?
- What are possible stresses this animal will face in the near future? Think weather, pregnancy, lactation, breeding, etc.
- All of these considerations will change how much of each specific nutrient your animal requires and how often they will need it.
If your animals arenâ€™t producing anything, they only require nutrition for general body maintenance, and it usually isnâ€™t a challenge for animals to maintain their body condition on a very basic diet.
The challenge of animal nutrition comes when an animal starts production and the diet remains one for maintenance. For example, letâ€™s say you have a cow and youâ€™d like to breed her so you can milk her. You would need to adjust her diet prior to breeding, multiple times during the various stages of pregnancy, again when she freshensâ€”begins milk productionâ€”and then again as you manage the milk production. These arenâ€™t necessarily going to be major changes, but even small dietary shifts can have a big impact on your cowâ€™s ability to handle breeding, pregnancy, birth and lactation successfully, and that goes for all animals.
Managing nutrition wisely on your hobby farm needs to become a priority. Even though your animals arenâ€™t usually used for heavy production, they can and will struggle and even become ill if itâ€™s overlooked. Hobby farmers can easily get caught up in a label for how their animals are fed or cared for instead of truly being concerned with their animalâ€™s well-being. Choose the feedstuff that you feel comfortable with and that delivers all the appropriate nutrients recommended for the type of animal youâ€™re raising and their current stage of life. Any type of feed can become problematic when fed deficiently or in excess.
Finding The Balance
Animal nutrition is all about balance, literally. Successful nutrition management plans feed animals a balanced diet, meaning that each nutrientâ€”protein, energy, vitamins and mineralsâ€”is balanced properly for the job youâ€™re asking your animals to perform, whether thatâ€™s production, work or anything else. Properly balanced diets donâ€™t need to be complicated or expensive; you can often create a great diet for your animals from feedstuffs available in your area and at your local feed stores. All it takes is a little bit of knowledge and planning.
This article originally ran in the January/February 2017 issue ofÂ Hobby Farms.