How To Balance Your Livestock’s Nutrition

Management of your livestock's nutrition should be one of your most important considerations as a farmer.

by Alli Kelley
PHOTO: Cowirrie/Flickr

Nutrition should be one of the most important livestock-management priorities on your hobby farm. Unfortunately, it’s often overlooked, which can lead to problems for your livestock and frustration for you. 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 aren’t producing anything, they only require nutrition for general body maintenance, and it usually isn’t a challenge for animals to maintain their body condition on a very basic diet.

Diet Challenges

The challenge of animal nutrition comes when an animal starts production and the diet remains one for maintenance. For example, let’s say you have a cow and you’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 freshens—begins milk production—and then again as you manage the milk production. These aren’t necessarily going to be major changes, but even small dietary shifts can have a big impact on your cow’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 aren’t usually used for heavy production, they can and will struggle and even become ill if it’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 animal’s well-being. Choose the feedstuff that you feel comfortable with and that delivers all the appropriate nutrients recommended for the type of animal you’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 nutrient—protein, energy, vitamins and minerals—is balanced properly for the job you’re asking your animals to perform, whether that’s production, work or anything else. Properly balanced diets don’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.

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This article originally ran in the January/February 2017 issue of Hobby Farms.

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