Monday, July 15, 2024

Importance of Balanced Diets for Ruminant Animals

If you are ruminant farmer, then am sure even as you are reading this that you wondering if there are any special feed that can make your ruminant animals grow very big within a very short period of time.

However, if balanced diets can be formulated for your ruminant animals and if the feeds are given at the right time using the right quantity required then your animals are likely to reach maturity on time.

In addition to good feeding, all other management procedures must be strictly adhered to, for it is the totality of these that will make your animals develop well. The management include: good housing, disease prevention and giving prompt attention to the sick ones.

Definition of Balanced Diets

It is common to feed farm animals using available resources and rely on the experience and knowledge passed through generations.

Some common feeding strategies supplement grazing animals with commercial concentrates, crop by-products (molasses, straws, oilcakes), lucerne and grass hay in winter, tree pods, prickly pear in most cases combined with the use of licks to meet the mineral requirements of the animals.

However, these feeds/fodder are rarely analysed in advance by a laboratory and then corrected (balanced) to meet animals´ requirements, often leading to a nutrient imbalance.

This means that the feed contains either more or less nutrients than the quantities required by the animals which has negative effects on growth, reproduction, milk production, etc.

It is usually thought that feeding above the requirements is less negative than feeding below them. Actually some farmers are convinced that feeding above the requirements could be used as a strategy to ensure that the minimum requirements of the animals are met. However, this is not true!

When feeding extra nutrients, animals need to use part of the energy of the feed to excrete the excess. Therefore, energy that should be used for growth, fattening or milk production is instead used for the excretion of this excess of nutrients. In addition, the excess of nutrients ends up in the faeces leading to environmental pollution, especially if these are runoff with the water.

Therefore, balancing the rations (balanced diets) is crucial to optimize the feed resources available on the farm. How can we balance a ration (balanced diets)?

Key Elements for Balanced Diets

Importance of Balanced Diets for Ruminant Animals
Importance of Balanced Diets for Ruminant Animals

The first step consists in understanding the nutrient requirements of the animals. What do animals need for balanced diets?

1. Proteins: proteins are the building blocks for body tissues (e.g. muscles, nerves, blood cells). Their lack not only hampers the growth of animals but proteins are essential for production and maintenance.

Unfortunately they cannot be replaced by other nutrients in the feed. Oilcakes (e.g. soybean meal, cottonseed cake) as well as some tree pods such as camel thorn pods are excellent sources of proteins.

2. Carbohydrates: there are three types of carbohydrates: sugars, starches and fibre. The first two are digestible by the animal itself. Fibre, on the other hand, is not digestible by the animals but it can be utilized by the microorganisms that live in symbiosis in the hindgut or in the rumen (only ruminants) (e.g. roughages).

Sugars and starches are important sources of energy. Animals need energy to carry out major vital activities, like: breathing, moving, growing, etc. These two carbohydrate, when “burned”, provide the energy needed by the body.

Readily available sugars are indeed immediate source of energy (e.g. molasses). Starches (corn, barley, wheat) can instead be only used when broken down into simple sugars.

3. Minerals and vitamins are substances that the animals need in small quantities but are essential for carrying out vital functions. Minerals are commonly found in salts and can be added in the feed or given as a lick. Vitamins can either be added to the feed or injected.

Meeting livestock nutritional requirements is extremely important in maintaining acceptable performance of neonatal, growing, finishing and breeding animals.

From a practical standpoint, an optimal nutritional program should ensure adequate intakes of amino acids (both traditionally classified essential and nonessential), carbohydrates, fatty acids, minerals, and vitamins by animals through a supplementation program that corrects deficiencies in basal diets (e.g., corn- and soybean meal-based diets for swine; milk replacers for calves and lambs; and available forage for ruminants).

Read Also: Stocking Management for Ruminant Animals

Benefits of Dietary Supplements

Additionally, dietary supplementation with certain nutrients (e.g., arginine, glutamine, zinc, and conjugated linoleic acid) can regulate gene expression and key metabolic pathways to improve fertility, pregnancy outcome, immune function, neonatal survival and growth, feed efficiency, and meat quality.

Overall, the proper balance of protein, energy, vitamins and all nutritionally important minerals in diets is needed to make a successful nutrition program that is both productive and economical. Both fundamental and applied research are required to meet this goal.

Reaching Adequate Water Intake

Also crucial to the nutrition program for animals is water. Livestock may have health problems resulting from substandard quality water. Consuming water is more important than consuming food. A successful livestock enterprise requires a good water supply, in terms both of quantity and quality.

Safe supplies of water are absolutely essential for livestock. If livestock do not drink enough safe water every day, intake of feed (roughages and concentrates) will drop, production will fall and the livestock producer will lose money.

Animal Nutrition: The Importance of Feeding Balanced Diets

Feeding has a direct impact on the growth rate, production capacity and health status of the animal. Feeding is key for a profitable and sustainable farming.

The cost of feeding has long been recognized as the major cost and the largest cash expense in animal production. It has a direct impact on the growth rate and health status of the animal as well as on the animal’s product quality. In addition to this, it also has effects on the environment.

Therefore, knowledge on animal nutrition is key for a profitable and sustainable farming. Animal nutrition focuses on studying the dietary needs of the animals. 

These dietary needs consist of nutrients, which are the components present in the feed that animals can digest and utilizeHence, when feeding a diet, it is important to first test its nutrient content. If the feed is an acquired commercial product (concentrate, lick etc.) the nutritional value must appear in the label of the product.

On the other hand, if the feed is done with in-farm available feedstuffs (fodder crops, crop residues, grains…) their nutritional values should be tested by sending it for laboratory analyses.

Testing the nutritional value of made in-farm feeds and of forages is a must, especially in the dry season when their protein content and energy can be extremely low.

Animals know how to auto regulate and they stop eating once they feel satisfied. However, if the nutrient content of the feed is very low, the consumed feed will not be enough to meet their requirements and they can suffer from malnutrition, even if fed ad libitum. Some farmers reported cases of animals fed ad libitum that were extremely weak, sick and that even died.

These events may not be necessarily related to a toxic diet, but they could be due to the shortage of nutrients. If this was the case, it could have been avoided by correcting the diet. Tip: always test the feed!

Animals´ nutrient requirements can vary among different species (swine, poultry, cattle etc.) but also among the same species in different status (pregnant cow, lactating cow, growing calves etc.) or under different conditions (external temperature, external stress etc.).

For example, a lactating cow will need more energy, water and calcium than a dry cow, pregnant sows need extra fibre, Furthermore, the production purpose also plays a role when designing a diet: feedlot, maintenance, organic farming, etc. all of them have different requirements.

Read Also: Adaptive Means of Animals Coping with the Environment


Benadine Nonye is an agricultural consultant and a writer with several years of professional experience in the agriculture industry. - National Diploma in Agricultural Technology - Bachelor's Degree in Agricultural Science - Master's Degree in Science Education - PhD Student in Agricultural Economics and Environmental Policy... Visit My Websites On: 1. - Your Comprehensive Practical Agricultural Knowledge and Farmer’s Guide Website! 2. - For Effective Environmental Management through Proper Waste Management and Recycling Practices! Join Me On: Twitter: @benadinenonye - Instagram: benadinenonye - LinkedIn: benadinenonye - YouTube: Agric4Profits TV and WealthInWastes TV - Pinterest: BenadineNonye4u - Facebook: BenadineNonye

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