The Best Feed for Ruminant Animals

In order to get the most out of livestock you must always give animals enough good feed and clean water. Good feed is high in nutrients and provides everything that the body needs in order for the animal to grow and reproduce.

Inadequate nutrition is a major cause of low live-weight gains, infertility and low milk yields and other health issues in animals.

Ruminant animals have a stomach that is composed of four compartmentsreticulum, rumen, omasum and abomasum. The rumen serves as a large fermentation vat in which bacteria and protozoa actually digest the cellulose (otherwise known as fiber) in the forage which mammals can not do.

The ruminant adds saliva to this material as it chews and swallows and then rechews when it later regurgitates (belches up) this material. This process is called rumination. (People say the animal is chewing its cud.) The purpose of the saliva is to add bicarbonate molecules to the rumen which helps control the acidity of the fermentation that goes on in the rumen.

Once the fiber is partially digested and the particle size of the material is right, the feed goes through the other stomachs including the abomesum, which is actually the true stomach, just like the stomach of other mammals.

Ruminants are purely herbivorous; they can survive solely on forages. In addition to forages, concentrates can be made available for them as this improves their general performance.

Ruminant animals are designed to eat forages. They can meet all of their energy needs to grow, reproduce and stay healthy with feed that consist of 100% good quality roughage (alfalfa, grass-hay or good pasture).

However, supplementation during certain periods (late gestation and lactation or for special projects like 4-H and FAA.) with concentrates (whole corn, barley, wheat, oats or other high carbohydrate feeds) may be in order.

Feeds can be compounded for them based on their nutritional requirements in terms of the purpose for which we are raising them. They do well with feeds like Brewery waste, dry cassava peels etc.

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.

Read Also: Ruminants Grazing Techniques – Suitable Methods

There are two types of forages commonly fed to ruminants; legumes and grasses. Alfalfa, clovers, peas and beans are all legumes. These plants provide quite a bit more protein than other grasses and plants. Thus, for hay, at least, alfalfa is preferred because it is considered to be a higher quality feed.

Protein is especially important in growing animals since protein can be likened to bricks, building blocks used to build tissue and bone. When purchasing feeds, protein content usually determines price. Even so alfalfa hay is generally the cheapest source of protein.

The only draw back to the protein in alfalfa is that it is not readily available to the young ruminant which really isn’t a ruminant at all until it develops the rumen organisms it needs to digest cellulose. For the calf, this would be about 6-7 months of age, for the kid and lamb it would be 60-90 days of age.

Milk protein (100% digestible) is definitely the highest quality of protein that can be fed to young stock, and soy protein becomes beneficial as the youngster gets a little older, 60 days for calves, 30 days for the smaller ruminants.

Types of Ruminant Animals 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.

The large stomach of the ruminant with its four compartments means that it can live mainly on roughage. Animals with single stomachs need more concentrates than ruminants. 

Ruminant Animal Rations

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:

Nutrient 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 animals. 

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.
The Ideal Feed for Ruminants


Fodder Trees

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.

The trees stop soil erosion and improve the fertility of the soil. To know more, ask your agriculture officer or veterinarian about using fodder trees.

Supplementary Feeds

  • 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.

Related: Methods of Livestock Breeding in the Tropical Environment

Ruminant Feeds Requirement in Details

The Best Feed for Ruminant Animals

1) Partition of Ruminant Feed energy

Only parts of the nutrients in feeds are available for the animal. All feeds contain energy: the gross energy (GE) that is the energy that is available when the feed is burned. For instance fresh sugarcane forage has a gross energy content of 18.2 MJ per kg of dry matter (DM). This GE is a value of the feeds itself and is not influenced by animals.

  • Cattle can digest sugarcane forage for 68% (the rest is lost in the faeces): the digestible energy (DE) for cattle is 11.3 MJ/kg DM.
  • Pigs are able to digest only 37% of all energy in sugarcane forage, so the digestible energy for pigs is only 6.7 MJ/kg DM, much lower than that for cattle.

From the digestible energy part cannot be used by the animal but is lost as methane gas or in urine. Especially ruminants loose part of the energy in methane gas while in non-ruminants this is a minor loss. The remaining energy is called metabolizable energy (ME).

  • The ME of sugarcane forage for cattle is 9.3 and for pigs it is 5.5 MJ/kg DM.
  • From the ME some heat is lost and that energy cannot be used by the animal itself. The energy that can be used by the animal is the net energy (NE). The efficiency this net energy is used for the various functions differs: for maintenance 1 kg of dry matter of sugarcane delivers 8.1 MJ, for growth the same kg of sugarcane forage delivers 8.6 MJ and for lactation it contains 6.7 MJ/kg DM.
  • So the net energy of the sugarcane forage for cattle varies from 6.7 – 8.6 and for pigs it varies from 4 – 5.
  • For high crude fibre forages and compared to cattle, goats use feeds with the same efficiency, camels and donkeys are less efficient, pigs are far less efficient, most poultry is far less efficient than cattle and rabbits are about as efficient as cattle.
  • For low crude fiber feeds pigs are more efficient than cattle. In the scheme “Fate of feed energy within the animal” the different parts of the systems are given.

When calculating rations, the value of the feeds and the requirements of the animals must have the same system. If energy of feeds is given in metabolizable energy, the requirements of animals should be stated in ME to be able to calculate rations.

In some countries the net energy (NE) system is used, in other countries the digestible energy (DE) or metabolizable energy (ME) system is used. The feed system used is mainly determined by the available information from feedstuffs and animals and the wish to be more or less precise.

It is a compromise between the costs of research and analysis and the benefits of using a very sophisticated feed system. With limited information about feeds it is best to use a system based on Metabolizable Energy or on a DE system, e.g. Total Digestible Nutrient (TDN) system.

When calculating feed needs of different animals a system called Metabolisable Energy as a basis for formulating rations on the farm is used. Metabolisable energy basically means that part of the feed which the animal is able to utilize.

The unit of energy is the joule of which one million units (1 000 000 joule) is referred as Megajoule (MJ). The energy value can be given in the dry matter or in the product (as fed).

For ration calculations the energy in the product is used. When comparing feeds (for example to compare prices of energy) it is more convenient to use the energy per kg of dry matter.

Basically, feed organic nutrients are required by the animals for three things: These are:
(i) use as materials for the construction of body tissues (growth and maintenance)
(ii) synthesis of products such as milk and eggs
(iii) use as sources of energy for work done. The work done include both metabolic (heat increment and maintenance) and physical e.g. walking and feeding.

Fate of feed energy within the ruminant animal
Fate of feed energy within the animal

Gross energy (GE) The feed is comprised of chemical ingredients which are broadly classified as carbohydrates, proteins, lipids and vitamins. Heat is released when organic material in such feed is burnt.

For this reason, methods have been developed to measure the quantity of chemical energy present in a feed by determining the amount of heat generated from complete burning a known quantity. This is referred to as gross energy. Most of the common feeds have energy content of about 18.5 MJ/kg DM.

Digestible energy (DE) Not all the gross energy in consumed feed is available and useful to the animal. Some energy is lost from the animal though excretions: it is fixed in the feed in a way the animal cannot reach it.

The digestible energy is calculated by subtraction of faecal energy from gross energy. The DE represents the energy content of the digested nutrients. From these digestible nutrients the Total Digestible Nutrients (TDN) can be calculated.

Metabolizable energy (ME) The animal further loses energy containing-substances through excretion of urine and production of gases during metabolic processes.

Metabolizable energy is what remains after subtraction of energy lost from urine and combustible gases resulting from the digestible energy of a feed. Loss of energy through methane (a combustible global warming gas) can be substantial, particularly from ruminants; hence can be of serious nutritive and environmental consequence.

Heat increment (HI) The ingestion of feed by an animal is also followed by losses of energy not only as the chemical energy excreta and gases produced but also as heat. Animals are continuously producing heat and losing it to their surroundings, either directly through radiation, conduction and convection or indirectly through water evaporation from the body.

The heat is generated through processes of digestion and metabolism of nutrients derived from the feed. For instance, the act of eating, which includes chewing, swallowing and secretion of saliva, requires muscular activity and this generates heat.

Unless the animal is in a particularly cold environment, this heat energy is of no value to it, and must be considered, like the energy of the excreta, as a tax on the energy of the feed. Energy lost in this manner is referred to as Heat increment.

Net energy (NE) The deduction of the HI of a feed from its ME gives the Net energy, which is the energy available to the animal for useful purposes such as body maintenance and various forms of production (milk, meat, eggs, wool and labour).

2. Energy Feeds

Energy is the fuel that keeps all body functions working. Milk production requires a lot of energy. If energy in the ration is not enough, the animal will lose body condition and for milking cows, milk yield will drop, pregnant cows become ill after calving and the calf will usually be small in size. If there is excess energy in the ration, the animals becomes too fat.

Cows that are too fat at calving usually have difficult births, often have problems with retained placenta, displaced abomasums and may suffer from milk fever and ketosis. Sources of energy are roughages and concentrate supplements fed to your animals.

Roughages form the main bulk of the dairy cow ration.
Roughages are bulky feeds that have a low energy content per unit volume (i.e. hay, straw). They can have a high moisture content (grass). Generally feedstuffs with more than 18% crude fibre and low digestibility are considered as roughages.

Ruminating animals (cattle, goats, sheep) need a certain amount of crude fibre to keep a healthy stomach system. On the other hand high yielding animals may not have enough capacity to consume the amount of roughage required to meet the energy requirement due to limitation of stomach size. For this reason, supplementing roughage diets with feeds high in readily available energy is often recommended.

Examples of energy sources (forages and fodders, agricultural by-products and concentrates) are shown in Tables 2 and 3. In the tables the average values of feedstuffs are given. Local conditions can cause differences in chemical composition of the same feedstuff. The values in the table can be used as guidelines when no information is available from the farmers own feeds. .

The currently recognized energy feed nutrients include:

  • Simple Carbohydrates such as Glucose, Fructose, Galactose, Sucrose, Maltose and Lactose, all different types of sugar
  • Complex (Carbohydrates) Polysaccharides such as
    • Starch, found in roots and tubers as well as in grain,
    • Hemicellulose (somewhere between sugar and cellulose chemically speaking),
    • Cellulose, the principal constituent of cell walls of plants. Most abundant in more fibrous feeds, generally low in digestibility. Cattle, goats, sheep (as ruminants) and horses (with a large colon-caecum) digest cellulose fairly easily. Pigs and chicken (as mono gastric animals) do not digest cellulose very easily.
    • Lignin which essentially is not digestible to animals. Found in over mature hays, straws and hulls. High lignin content in feed may reduce the digestibility of cellulose and other nutrients.
  • Fats and oils. Found in seeds, grains, avocados etc. Fats contain 2.25 times as much energy per kg compared to carbohydrates, but are usually expensive to produce.

3. Minerals

Minerals are required in small amounts but are important components of the ration. They are essential for cows to remain healthy and for the body to function properly, for the development and maintenance of strong bones and for successful reproduction and production of milk and eggs.

Minerals are chemical elements which form important component of animal feed ingredients. They are essential in ensuring normal and proper functions of the body as well as in maintenance of good health. When an element classified as essential lacks in the diet, animals will in shorter or longer time show deficiency symptoms, which are eradicated or prevented by inclusion of this particular element in the diet.

Some elements are required in relatively large amounts compared to others. For this reasons the minerals have been classified as ‘macro-minerals’ (required in larger amounts: grams per kg feed) and ‘micro-minerals’ or ‘trace-minerals’ (required in minute amounts; milligrams or micrograms per kg of feed).

Of the 20 elements that function in animal nutrition, carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen are regarded as the non-mineral elements. The other 16 are referred to as the mineral elements which function in animal nutrition.

Of these 7 are macro-minerals (required in fairly large amounts) and 9 are micro-minerals (required in very small or trace amounts). Micro-minerals are also sometimes called trace-minerals.
Different livestock types have different mineral requirements, which as far as possible will be described under each livestock type.

Some minerals can be stored in the animal body (liver: copper, bones: calcium) and sign of deficiencies are shown after a longer period of deficient feeding. Minerals that are not stored in the body show signs of deficiency more rapid.

  • The macro-minerals are: are: Calcium (Ca), Phosphorus (P), Potassium (K), Sodium (Na), Sulphur (S), Chlorine (Cl), Magnesium (Mg).
  • The micro- or trace minerals are: Iron (Fe), Iodine (I), Copper (Cu), Cobalt (Co), Fluorine (F), Manganese (Mn), Zinc (Zn), Molybdenum (Mo), Selenium (Se).

Read Also: Importance of a Sick Bay in a Ruminant House

3a) Macro-minerals

Animals require more of the macro-minerals (Calcium, Phosphorus, Magnesium, Sodium, Potassium, Chlorine, Sulphur) than the micro-minerals (Iodine, Iron, Cobalt, Copper, Manganese, Molybdenum, Zinc, Selenium).

If animals do not consume enough of the macro-minerals, this will cause reduced production, infertility problems, weakness of the bone and increased incidences of non-infectious diseases.

In cows insufficient Calcium supply causes milk fever. Deficiencies in micro-minerals (trace elements) can cause a variety of diseases and conditions depending on which mineral is deficient.

Cattle grazing in areas around Nakuru usually have Cobalt deficiency and may develop a wasting disease called Nakuritis. They become anemic and eventually die.

The forages are deficient of mineral Cobalt because the soils naturally contain very low levels of this micro-nutrient. Special mineral supplements are available for cattle in such areas. Too much of the micro-minerals can cause poisoning.

Calcium and Phosphorus are of particular importance when formulating rations. Legumes tend to have more Calcium and Phosphorus than grasses. Grains are low in Calcium. Young dark green forage tends to have more minerals than old, dry and yellow forages. Most tropical forages are low in Phosphorus.

Extra Calcium and Phosphorus usually need to be provided in the ration over and above that naturally present in the feed and mineral mix, especially for high yielding animals. Tables 2 and 3 show examples of sources of mineral salts (Forages and fodders, agricultural by-products, concentrates and minerals).

  • Salt: (Sodium chloride) deficiency develops slow (weeks) but causes unthrifty appearance and low performance. Provision of ad lib salt licks are recommended. Plants tend to be low in both sodium and chlorine. It is therefore an important practice to give common salt to herbivores such as dairy cattle in order to prevent deficiency symptoms. Feeding diets deficient in salt may not show immediate symptoms, but chronic deficiency dairy cattle diets has been shown to lead to low appetite, low milk production and loss of weight. The addition of salt in the diet usually provide immediate cure. Fish meal, Guinea grass, Rhodes grass, Sweet potato vines, Rice and Oat straw and Sugarcane molasses are good sources for sodium.
  • Calcium: Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the animal body. It is the most important constituent of the skeleton (bones) and teeth. Calcium also plays important roles in the activities of enzymes and hormones, which catalyse and/or balance the body metabolic processes. Agricultural lime, fish meal, milk, crushed shells, marble dust, some seaweed and green leafy forages, especially legumes, are good sources of calcium. Calcium tend to be low in old, dry and yellowing forages.

    In older (multiparous) dairy cows, a condition known as ‘milk fever’ (parturient paresis) commonly occurs shortly after calving caused by lack of available calcium. It is characterized by a lowering of the blood calcium level (hypocalcaemia), muscular spasms, and in extreme cases paralysis and unconsciousness.

    Deficiency symptoms: a) rickets in young stock. Joints become enlarged. Bones become soft and deformed. Condition may be corrected in early stages with calcium feeding. b) Osteomalacia or osteoporosis in older animals. Bones become porous and weak. Condition may be corrected by feeding calcium if bones do not break.Examples are known of cows fed too little calcium breaking their backs during mating

  • Phosphorus: is needed for bone and teeth formation, building body tissue (growth of animals), milk and egg production. Signs of phosphorous deficiency include animals eating soil, chewing on non feed objects, slow or poor appetite, slow gain of bodyweight, low milk or egg production.Low dietary intakes of phosphorus have also been associated with poor fertility, apparent dysfunction of the ovaries causing inhibition, depression or irregular oestrus.
    Sources of Phosphorous: Bone meal, Rock phosphate, Superphosphates such as TSP etc. Also many improved salt licks contain phosphorus. African locust bean, pod pulp, Cotton seed meal, Wheat, bran, Rice bran and Sunflower cake are a good source of Phosphorous, but hays and straws have very low phosphorous content.
  • Magnesium: is needed in proper functioning of the nervous system, carbohydrate metabolism and enzyme systems.
    Deficiencies: a) Hypermagnesaemia also called grass tetany, grass staggers and wheat poisoning can occur when animals are grazing on young fresh grass or wheat with high protein and potassium content and with very little content of magnesium.
    Symptoms are hyper excitability, paralyse and frequent death. More common in Europe than in Africa. Prevention: use animal salts containing magnesium especially when animals are grazing on new young grass or grains such as oats. Banana, stalks, Cassava, foliage, Pawpaw, leaves, Sweet potato vines, Cotton seed meal, soybean and Cocoa pods are good courses of magnesium. In Kenya magnesium deficiency hardly occurs, probably because of the available feeds.
  • Sulphur: Sulphur requirements of cattle and sheep are around 0.1-0.2% of ration dry matter. For non-ruminants sulphur should be in the form of sulfur-containing proteins. A deficiency of sulphur will express itself as a protein deficiency, general unthriftiness and poor performance. Good sources of sulphur are Lucerne, Wheat- and Rice bran and Sunflower cake.

3b) Micro-minerals

  • Iron: Necessary for blood and some enzyme formation. The precise minimum requirements have not been determined for various classes of livestock, but 80mg of iron per kg of diet is more than adequate for most animals. Deficiencies are most often found in young pigs (other animals much less sensitive): Laboured breathing, flappy wrinkled skin, oedema of head and shoulders, pale eyelids, ears and nose. Prevention/cure: A few drops of ferrous sulphate or similar daily during the first 3-4 weeks. Salt licks containing iron. Cattle fed with roughages iron will be sufficient in general.
  • Iodine: Needed for the production of Thyroxin in the thyroid gland. A level of 0.25 mg/kg air dried diet is considered adequate for most classes of livestock. Dairy cows should be provided with 0.5 mg iodine/kg dry matter feed.
    Deficiency symptoms: Goiter at birth or soon after, Hairlessness at birth, infected navels, dead or weak at birth. Prevention: mix normal iodized salt (table salt) into the salt licks of the livestock.
  • Cobalt: Needed in vitamin synthesis. For cattle and sheep, feed containing from 0.05-0.10 mg of cobalt/kg feed prevents any cobalt deficiency. For pigs cobalt is only needed as part of Vit B12. Several areas in Kenya have cobalt deficient soils, producing feed deficient in cobalt.particularly around Nakuru and Naivasha due to the absence of this element in the soils, leading to the absence in the pastures. A feed analysis will show whether feed in your area is cobalt deficient. Consult your livestock officer.
    Deficiency symptoms are simply those of malnutrition: poor appetite, unthriftiness, weakness, anaemia, decreased fertility, slow growth and decreased milk and wool production. There are number of disorders due to cobalt deficiency characterized by emaciation (wasting disease or Nakuritis), pining, anaemia and listlessness. Although excess cobalt can be toxic to animals, there is a wide margin of safety level. Thus cobalt toxicity is generally unlikely. Prevention and cure: Where cobalt deficiency is diagnosed, 12.5g of any cobalt salt, such as cobalt chloride, cobalt sulphate or cobalt carbonate can be mixed with 100 kg of normal cattle salt. Barley, grain, Lucerne and Sorghum are relatively high in cobalt.
  • Copper: needed for blood and hair production as well as in the enzyme system. Where diets are not high in Molybdenum and/or sulphate the following levels of copper per kilo of diet dry matter have been found adequate:
    • Dairy cattle: 10 mg/kg
    • Beef cattle and sheep: 4-5 mg/kg
    • Pigs: 6 mg/kg
    • Horses: 5-8 mg/kg

      High levels of Molybdenum and/or sulphate create unusable salts and may increase the copper requirements 2-3 times. Many areas in Kenya have copper deficiency in the soils and produce feed deficient in copper. Deficiency symptoms are not specific and may include any of the following: Bleaching of hair in cattle especially around the eyes, abnormal wool growth in sheep, muscular incoordination, weakness at birth, anaemia, severe diarrhoea. Prevention and cure: Supplementation of livestock with copper in copper deficient areas is essential. This can be done by using trace mineralized salt containing from 0.25-0.50% copper sulphate. Pigs may be fed up to maximum 250 g copper/kg dry feed. More than 100 mg copper per kilo dry matter may be toxic to cattle and over 50 mg/kg will be toxic for sheep. It is also possible to repair your grazing areas for especially ruminants by upgrading the soil content of copper according to soil analysis recommendations. Generally grass and fodder deficient in copper have yellow or burnt leaf tips and low rates of production. Soybean, aerial parts, Cocoa pods and hulls, Cassava, foliage silage, Cowpea, aerial parts, Sunflower, cake, Maize Stover, Coffee hulls Cotton seed meal, Barley straw and Wheat bran can be sources of copper.

  • Fluorine: necessary for healthy teeth, but excess may weaken and stain the teeth. In Kenya fluorine deficiencies are not common, but drinking water especially from boreholes often contain very high levels of fluorine. If the levels of fluorine are too high water can be filtered through a filter containing burnt bones, which will absorb most of the fluorine. This is more practical for human water consumption than for livestock. In most parts of Kenya highlands there is excess of fluorides in surface water and ground water. Harvesting rainwater for domestic use can ameliorate the problem. Water can also be treated to lower the fluoride level. The best advice for water treatment for excessive fluorine can be obtained from the Catholic Diocese in Nakuru.
  • Manganese: influences oestrus, ovulation, foetal development, udder development, milk production, growth and skeletal development. Requirements:
    • Dairy cattle: 40 mg/kg of dry matter feed
    • Beef cattle and sheep: 5-20 mg per kg dry matter feed
    • Pigs: 10-20 mg/kg dry matter feed.

      Deficiency symptoms noted from areas deficient in soil manganese include: delayed oestrus, reduced ovulation, abortions, resorptions, deformed young, “knuckle over” in calves, poor growth. Supplementation is easily done with trace mineralized salts containing 0.25% manganese. Rice products, Guinea grass, Kenya sheep grass, Sweet potato vines, Sorghum straw, Wheat bran, Rhodes grass, Kikuyu grass and Napier grass van be rich in manganese.

  • Molybdenum: Important in poultry as it stimulates uric acid formation, and in ruminants stimulates action of rumen organisms. Molybdenum deficiencies have only been observed in poultry in special cases. Molybdenum supplementation is normally not recommended in livestock production. High amounts limit copper availability. Soybean cake, Rice bran, Lucerne, Wheat bran and Sunflower cake can be high in molybdenum.
  • Selenium: works in vitamin E absorption and utilization.
    Requirements: about 0.1 mg or less per kg dry feed. Deficiency symptoms include: Nutritional muscular dystrophy in lambs and calves, retained placenta in cows, heart failure, paralysis, poor growth, low fertility, liver necrosis, pancreatic fibrosis in chicks. Many areas in Kenya are known to have selenium deficiency of the soils. If selenium deficiency is expected, a soil or feed sample can be sent to any of the major laboratories for analysis. Supplementation must be done very carefully as selenium in too large quantities is poisonous and causes the same problems as selenium deficiency. 1 gram Selenium in the form of sodium selenite can be added to 10 kg dry feed in deficient areas (=10g or 2 teaspoons per 100 kg feed- really not much). Fish meal, Wheat bran, Sorghum grain, Sunflower cake, Lucerne, Wheat grain, Soybean hulls and Rice bran are good sources of selenium.
  • Zinc: promotes growth and thriftiness. Promotes wound healing, related to hair and hoofs/claws and wool growth. Deficiencies mostly found in pigs fed on concrete floors. Deficiency symptoms include: general unthriftiness, poor growth, unhealthy looking hair, skin and wool, slow wound healing. Pigs can be supplemented with 50 mg of zinc per kg of dry feed or as trace mineralized salt. Good sources of zinc can be: Soybean, aerial parts, Sugarcane forage, Sunflower heads, Banana, stalks, Neem tree, leaves, Mango leaves, Jackfruit leaves, Maize bran and Fish meal.

A well balanced mineral salt mixture adjusted to local conditions is the easiest way to ensure good mineral balance in animal feeds. It is not common to have feeds analysed for minerals and trace-elements because of the high price of analysing. Free ranging livestock do get reasonable adequate quantities from nature or from sites with natural minerals licks.

Read Also: Security and Bio-Security Measures in a Ruminant Farm

4. Vitamins

The Best Feed for Ruminant Animals
The Best Feed for Ruminant Animals
The Best Feed for Ruminant Animals

Vitamins in ruminant feeding

While all the different vitamins are essential for all livestock, under most conditions only vitamin A needs to be given attention in ruminant feeding. ss-carotene and/or Vit A can be stored in the liver and body tissues during periods of high intake and used during periods of low intake. Vitamin A is found in green plants, carrots and other feed stuff.

Vitamin B is usually synthesized in the rumen of ruminants.For other animals it is beneficial to include small amounts of feed from animal origin to supply vitamin B12, as this vitamin is only found in animal products.

Vitamin C will most of the time be enough in the green roughages eaten by ruminants , but non-ruminants will need access to green vegetation or vegetables to cover their vitamin C needs. Vitamin D gets produced when animals are exposed to direct sunlight, for which reason it is always advisable to give livestock a chance to spend time in the sun.

Vitamin A deficiencies in ruminants may include:

  • Reduced feed intake
  • Slow weight gains
  • Night blindness
  • Swollen hocks, knees, and brisket
  • Total blindness
  • Diarrhoea
  • Muscular incoordination
  • Staggering gait
  • Reduced sexual activity
  • Low fertility in bulls
  • Poor conception rates
  • Abortion in cows

For this reason it is advisable to supplement ruminant feed with Vitamin A (or carrots if available) during periods where little green fodder is available.

Vitamins in pig nutrition

Pigs need a lot more vitamin supplements than ruminants. As for ruminants Vitamin D can be produced by the pigs themselves if they are given a chance to spend time in direct sunlight. This does not always happen in today’s pig production. So recommendations for vitamins to pigs look as follows:
  • Vitamin A: Add 2-3 % good quality Lucerne meal or similar (such as dried crushed comfrey or amaranth leaves) to the normal pig rations. Another alternative can again be carrots if cheap enough and available.
  • Vitamin D: Try to expose the pigs to sunlight. If this is not possible addition of Vitamin D supplementation is needed.
  • Riboflavin: This is found in Lucerne meal, green plants, fish meal or milk products. If none of these are used in the pig feed, supplementation with riboflavin is recommended.
  • Niacin: As most feeds are short of this vitamin, supplementation is recommended. Some good sources of Niacin include: rice and wheat bran, sunflower meal, brewer’s yeast and fish meal.
  • Pantothenic Acid: Supplementation recommended with for example rice or wheat bran, rice polishing, sunflower meal, Lucerne meal, fish- or peanut meal, brewer’s yeast.
  • Vitamin B12: This vitamin is only found in animal products such as fish meal, blood meal, or for open range pigs and poultry: insects, grubs, etc. If your pigs are mostly fed on soya meal for their protein, a small addition of fishmeal will be beneficial.
  • Choline: Is usually sufficient in pig rations.
  • Vitamin E: Effective vitamin E utilization is dependent on adequate selenium, and selenium is sometimes deficient in feed from some areas. If selenium content of feed is a problem also the production of vitamin E will be a problem. Ask advice on Vitamin E from your livestock nutritionist.

    The values in Table 3 for vitamin content of feed stuffs, should only be used as guidelines, as vitamin content depends on weather conditions where the crops are grown. However it can be seen which crops are able to produce the various essential vitamins.

    Table 3: Vitamin content of some feeds – American values (From Cullison 1987) as Kenya values are not available. It is assumed that similar products in Africa do not differ substantially in Vitamin composition, so the values indicated can be used when choosing which ingredients to balance your feeds from.

    Alfalfa = Lucerne, Copra meal = coconut meal, Corn = Maize. It is often convenient to supplement livestock with vitamin mineral mixtures in form of lick or when composing feed formula to include a vitamin mineral premix. These vitamin mineral premixes are generally available.

    Essential amino acids in some important feeds
    Essential amino acids in some important feeds
    Essential amino acids in some important feeds
    The Best Feed for Ruminant Animals
    Essential amino acids in some important feeds
The Best Feed for Ruminant Animals
The Best Feed for Ruminant Animals

5. Fibre requirements and Water

Fibre Requirements

Domestic livestock require varying amounts of dietary fibre to keep them healthy and keep the digestive system active. The more fibrous feed stuffs are, the lower the energy and protein content and the more energy it takes to digest the feed.

It is tempting to feed fast growing animals such as broilers and piglets a diet low in fibre in order to be able to eat enough calories and protein for fast growth. In general those feed stuffs are more expensive, and could results in lower quality meat production.

Animals should always have enough fibres to keep them healthy and keep them occupied to maintain or create a system in which animals have high resistance. Strong animals in healthy and hygienic surroundings are less susceptible for diseases and don’t need preventive antibiotics.

In organic system preventive antibiotics are not allowed. Such low fibre diets makes the animals susceptible to diseases. Addition of antibiotics in animal feed has again led to traces of antibiotics in their meat, and the development of antibiotic resistant human disease bacteria, as humans are the ultimate consumers.

For animals to lead a healthy life, they must consume enough dietary fibre to keep the stomach/ rumen healthy and functioning. However there are limits; too high content of fibre (lignin, dry cellulose) will fill the stomach without bringing enough nutrients along.

Various livestock species have different adaptabilities to high fibre diets. In a diet it will be a compromise between the energy needs of an animal and the possibility to meet the needs: the higher the production, the higher the energy density of the ration should be.

6. Water

Water is a necessary compound of plants and animals. Growing plants contain 70-80% water and animals contain 70-90% water. Water has several important functions in the animal body such as regulation of body temperature, carrier of nutrients, regulation of tissue structure etc.

Water is needed to make saliva for swallowing feed and for chewing the cud, for feed to be digested, to cool the body when it is too hot and to remove waste materials from the body in the urine and faeces.

In addition a milking cow (and also suckling sows, camels and donkeys) needs water for milk production. Lack of water will kill an animal faster than lack of any other nutrient. Lack of sufficient amounts of water or provision of poor quality water will seriously reduce animal performance.

Minimum Space and Water Consuption

The normal range of water consumption for adult animals has been summarized as below:

Livestock type Water consumption in litres/day
Camels every 5-8 days as much as they can drink (up to 100 liter or one third of body weight) daily about 15-30 litres
Beef cattle 35-60 per head
Dairy cattle 30-80 per head
Horses 24-36 per head
Donkeys/mules Twice a day as much as they can drink (10-25)
Pigs 15-25 per head
Sheep and goats 5-20 per head
Chickens 40-50 per 100 birds = 0.5 litre per bird
Turkeys 40-75 per 100 birds = 0.75 litre per bird
Rabbit 50-150 Millilitre (=0.1 litre) water per kilogram bodyweight (small cup)

Water should be available at all times (except for camels, they can do with water every 5-8 days) and be clean and fresh.

Remember that young animals also need water! Even when they are milk fed, it is not always fulfilling their needs for liquids, especially not if active and if it is warm or hot and dry, or maybe even windy.

Read Also: Stocking Management for Ruminant Animals


Ideally, water should be available to dairy cattle at all times.

Rule of thumb: If this is not possible, a rule of thumb is to supply 1 litre of water for every 10 kg of live-weight of the cow plus 1.5 litres of water per 1 litre of milk produced. So a cow of 500 kg live weight and a milk yield of 15 kg a day needs 50 + 22.5 = 72.5 litres of water every day.

Dairy cows

Table 4a. Water requirements for dairy cows dependent on ambient temperature and milk yield
(NRC 2001) (accounted with formula of Murphy et al, 1983)

The amount of water dairy cattle will drink is influenced by the quantity of dry matter ingested a factor of the dry matter content of the diet, the chemical composition of the diet, water quality, environmental temperatures and physiological state of the animal.

Table 4b shows water requirements for dairy cows at different ambient temperatures based on dry matter intake requirements. When fresh grass is fed, with a dry matter content of 25%, every 10 kg of grass contain 7,5 kg of water. When hay is fed, with a dry matter content of 80%, every 10 kg of hay contains only 2 kg of water.

Table 4b: Water requirements for dairy cows dependent on ambient temperature, dry matter intake and milk yield 


7. Feed Additives

A feed additive is defined as a feed ingredient of non-nutritive nature that stimulates growth or other type of performance or improves the efficiency of feed utilization or that may be beneficial in some manner to the health or metabolism of the animal.

Examples of feed additives for dairy cattle are anti-helminthic (Dewormers), anti-bloat agents, rumen buffers (NaHCO3, MgO), flavouring agents (Molasses), rumen microbes for fibre digestion (Yea sac) and growth promoters or hormone-like substances.

For feed manufacturers it is now common practice to add yea sac and rumen buffers to commercial dairy concentrate. Also some farmers who offer total mixed rations (TMR) to their cattle use these feed additives.

On small holder farms feed additives are not commonly added to dairy cattle rations. In organic agriculture these substances are not approved as management tools.

8. Feed Quality

At farm level, dairy cattle are exposed to many feeds, with diets varying in different regions and farming systems. The productivity of a dairy system is highly dependent on the quality of feeds. This is because the feed quality determines the intake and availability of ingested nutrients for utilization by the dairy cattle.
Consequently, farmers are not only faced with the problem of knowing the quality of the feeds but also the factors that influence the quality. The objective of this chapter is to provide highlights of information about quality indicators of cattle feeds and backgrounds of some measurements of feed quality often encountered in dairy industry. The highlights include physical indicators and some scientific feed evaluation methods that can be employed to determine feed quality.

Do you have any question, suggestion or other contributions? kindly use the comment box provided below for all your contributions. You are also encouraged to please kindly share this article with others you feel can benefit from this information if found useful enough as we may not be able to reach everyone at the same time. Thank you so much for sharing!

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Benadine Nonye

An Agric. Consultant & a Writer (With over 12 years of professional experience in the agricultural industry) - National Diploma in Agricultural Technology - Bachelor's Degree in Agricultural Science - Master's Degree in Science Education... Visit My Websites On: - It's All About Agriculture, The Way Forward! - The Most Reliable Global Agricultural Forum! - The Most Reliable Nigeria's Agricultural Job Board! - For Everything Premium Agriculture! - For Proper Waste Management and Recycling Practices. Join Me On: Twitter: @benadinenonye - Instagram: benadinenonye - LinkedIn: benadinenonye - YouTube: Agric4ProfitsTV - Pinterest: BenadineNonye4u - Facebook: BenadineNonye

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