Well ideally, before they are weaned, young ruminant animals are supposed to be given enough milk by the mother. After weaning, when they are to be fed with forages, it is advisable that those to be served the young ones are more succulent than those for the adults.
In serving them concentrates, those to be served to the young ones should be richer in protein than those to be served the adult. This is because the young needs it for growth.
Meanwhile, a balanced ration should provide protein, energy, minerals and vitamins from dry fodders, green fodders, concentrates, mineral supplements etc., in appropriate quantities to enable the animal to perform optimally and remain healthy.
Imbalanced feeding results in:
• Low milk production, poor growth and reproduction
• Milk production of animals lower than their genetic potential
• Shorter lactation length and longer calving intervals
• Animals more prone to metabolic disorders such as milk fever and ketosis
• Slow growth in young animals and delayed age at first calving
• Shorter productive life
• Excessive amounts of pollutants released into the environment
• Lower profit to farmers
Best Feeds for Young Ruminant Animals
Providing essential nutrition for young ruminant animals is the key to raising productive, healthy livestock. Young ruminant animals are more vulnerable than adult members of their species because their immune systems and tolerances are still developing. This means the risk of contracting infections, sickness, and disease is much higher in early stages of life.
Juvenile ruminant animals that do not have access to essential nutrients often experience stunted growth and are more susceptible to sickness, disease, and in extreme cases, death.
1. Supporting Healthy, Early Development
Adolescent ruminant animals must have access to a healthy diet that contains minerals, vitamins, and other essential nutrients which support vital body functions and growth. The amount of nutrients required for developing animals varies according to their species, age, living conditions, and access to nutritional feed options.
Water, protein, and calcium are needed for all young animals to survive, but some species have specific requirements that contribute to optimal health.
Young ruminants can usually satisfy most of their dietary needs by foraging for nutrient-rich vegetation. However, many pastures are unsuitable for forage or do not contain large enough quantities of edible plants to provide the nutrients required for healthy development.
That means calves, lambs, kids, and other young ruminants will often require supplemental sources of nutrition to maintain their well-being and support growth.
Newborn calves must be fed colostrum from their dam immediately after birth because it carries immunoglobulins that are absorbed by the gut to help the immune system resist disease. This passive transfer of immunity has proven to improve growth rates and decrease health costs associated with calves.
Ducklings, goslings, chicks, and other young poultry must have access to a generous supply of amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that contribute to healthy energy metabolism and other necessary functions.
A variety of physiological and morphological changes occur in young poultry immediately after hatching that affects their ability to digest food. Chief among these changes is the maturation of the enterocyte, so that it may begin secreting enzyme precursors for digestion.
During the post-hatch stage of life, nutrient transporters in young poultry are controlled by the level of protein they receive in their diet, as well as the quality and composition of feed.
Newborn piglets rely on careful management to survive because they are born without antibody protection. Their bodies cannot regulate internal temperatures, and they only have enough fat energy for one day. Much like ruminants, piglets must be given colostrum immediately after birth in order to strengthen their immune systems.
In addition, the use of short and medium chain fatty acids stimulate the gut health of suckling piglets, achieving eubiosis. The nutritional requirements for pigs differ according to their various developmental stages where essential minerals, vitamins and amino acids are carefully added to support optimum performance.
Foals need a well-balanced intake of nutrients to develop properly and prevent disease or sickness from setting in. The first year of a foal’s life is especially important to their musculoskeletal health. Nursing foals receive most of their nutrients from the mother’s milk, where protein, calcium, phosphorus, and more are provided.
Newborn foals need to be fed colostrum to receive a high concentration of nutrients and antibodies from the dam. In addition to improving disease resistance, colostrum helps foals to pass fecal excrement, which would otherwise cause constipation.
2. Solving Common Health Problems
Young animals are more susceptible to health problems and have greater difficulty recovering from disease. Providing ample sources of nutrition improves their gut health, growth rates, and body functions, making it easier for them to resist and recover from health issues.
Four Common Health Problems Experienced by Young Animals
- Infection – A strong immune system is the best way to help young animals fight off infections.
- Disease and sickness – While many young animals are typically vaccinated for a range of common diseases, there is always a chance they will contract sickness from interacting with pathogens or parasites in their environment.
- Dehydration and heat stress – Young animals often experience dehydration, sometimes due to nursing problems or lack of access to drinking water. In addition, heat stress commonly occurs during the summer months because many young livestock have not yet developed fully enough to regulate their body temperature.
- Failure of passive transfer – This occurs when antibodies are not transferred during pregnancy or feeding from the dam to the newborn offspring. This problem is often caused by dams that produced little or no colostrum, leaked colostrum prior to giving birth, or produced no milk. Failure of passive transfer places young animals at a very high risk of contracting disease.
These common health problems can all be avoided or corrected with diets that provide required nutrients in clean, favorable environments.
Using Supplements and Additives to Boost Nutrition for Young Animals
Overcoming these common problems can be solved by supplementing diets with nutritional additives or altering diets. It is important to evaluate each case individually to determine whether dietary supplements are required.
In many instances, breeding practices, seasonal changes, or feeding patterns (such as foraging or consuming pelleted feed) can help determine which supplements are needed. If young animals are struggling to consume proper amounts of nutrition, they may require a change in diet or added nutritional supplements.
Animal supplements should never be used in lieu of an adequate diet—only in conjunction with a nutritious diet. Livestock that are experiencing low energy due to a poor nutrition plan with limited access to fresh feed should be given feed supplements to maintain their health.
Raising productive, healthy livestock starts by providing young animals with complete nutrition that gives them the best opportunity to grow, mature, and resist common health problems.
Read Also: Introduction to Limnology
What an animal needs in its feed
- All animals and humans need the nutrients called carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals in their feed in order to stay healthy, have energy, grow and reproduce.
- Carbohydrates such as sugar and starch are burned in the body to give energy. Fats are broken down in the body to give carbohydrates and water. Animals and humans store carbohydrates as fat in the body.
- Protein forms the building blocks of the body. It is needed to produce the muscles.
- Minerals such as copper and calcium are needed to form the bones, brain, nerves and blood. Plants take in minerals from the soil.
- Vitamins are essential for a healthy body and all plants contain several vitamins. Lack of essential vitamins can cause problems such as blindness and swollen joints.
- If animals do not get enough of any nutrient they will become less productive and may die from a condition called a deficiency disease.
- If an animal does not get enough fat, protein or carbohydrate in its feed it cannot grow properly, loses weight, milk production drops and production of young is affected.
- Lack of minerals results in such problems as failing to come into heat, poor bone growth and loss of hair or wool.
Types of Feed
A good, rich feed contains more energy than a poor feed and a cow gets as much energy from 1 kg of sorghum, barley or corn as it does from 6 kg of grass. Some feeds are very poor and of little use to the animal. For example, old straw contains little energy, most of it cannot be digested and passes out of the animal as dung.
- Roughage is bulky and low in energy-giving carbohydrates. Examples of such feeds are grasses, maize stalks and sweet potato tops.
- Concentrates are feeds which are rich in proteins and carbohydrates, e.g. grain crops.
A daily ration is the amount of feed an animal needs every day. A good ration will contain all of the nutrients. Some nutrients are found in large amounts in some plants:
|Carbohydrate||maize, sorghum, wheat, oats, rice, grass|
|Protein||lucerne (alfalfa), clovers, beans, grass|
|Fats||cotton seed, sunflower seeds, grass, groundnuts|
An example of a good ration which can be given to animals not on pasture is 3 parts of maize, part sunflowers and 1 part unshelled groundnuts. The ration is fed at the rate of 2 – 3% of body weight each day.
Green growing grass contains all the nutrients but in the dry season grass contains little protein and vitamins. It is necessary to give additional feeds at this time in order to prevent weight loss, maintain high milk production, growth and reproduction. It may also become necessary to give minerals to the animal.
Feed for the dry season
- In the dry season grass becomes scarce and is low in nutrients. When grass is plentiful in the wet growing season you can cut grass, and store it until it is needed in the dry season.
- The grass can be kept as hay or silage.
- Hay is dried grasses. The best hay is prepared from young grasses. Cut the grass and leave it to dry in the sun for several days turning it over to make sure it is completely dry when it can be stored until needed. Do not try to make hay in the rainy season.
- Silage is grass or other plants which are cut while green and stored without air. To make silage you will need an airtight container or pit to store it in. Dig a pit 2 meters deep and 1.5 to 2.0 meters wide.
- Put a base of large stones in the bottom of the silo. Cut grass and fill the silo with it, stamping down the grass with your feet. The silo must be filled in 1 to 2 days. When filled cover the top of the silo with a sheet of plastic or stones and a covering of soil in order to keep out water and air. Leave the silage for a few months before using it. The quality of the silage will depend on the plants used. Silage keeps well and animals like it.
In some communities’ people traditionally cut tree branches to feed their animals. We now know that some trees are better than others for feed. The best trees are leguminous trees (Leucaena).
These trees can be grown in rows 4 m apart. Other crops can be grown between the rows of trees (alley farming). The leaves and branches of the trees can be cut through the year and used as animal feed.
Using these trees for feed is beneficial because:
- The leaves of the trees provide good feed for animals all through the year.
- The rotting leaves provide a mineral rich mulch (natural fertilizer) for other crops.
- The trees provide fuel wood, timber and shelter from the wind.
- Supplementary feeds are given when the grass is poor and dry or when an animal is pregnant, giving milk or is a working animal.
- The best supplementary feed is cake. The cheapest of which is the waste material from the processing of coconuts, groundnuts, cottonseed and palm oil.
- You can use whatever is available locally.
- Animals need plenty of fresh clean water every day.
- Always give water before feeding animals and allow them to drink at least three times a day.
- Ruminants on pastures can be watered every 2 – 3 days.
- Do not allow animals to stand in the water at the drinking place. This can cause disease to spread.
- Water needs will vary according to the feed they eat and the weather.
- A pinch of salt can be added to the drinking water to provide minerals.
Points to remember
Take care not to spread disease through feed and water. Keep water and feed troughs clean and do not allow animals to eat old or musty feed. Change feeds slowly. Take special care when introducing fresh green feed so that bloat is avoided.
Several methods of feeding animals have been developed such as the following:
- Feeding urea-treated straw : Straw is a low nutrient feed for ruminants but if it is wetted with urea and covered for a week it becomes more nutritious.
- Molasses-urea-mineral blocks : Blocks made of molasses, mineral salts and urea are a good supplement for ruminants which lick the block and take in the nutrients.
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