Get what you pay for

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Feed prices have escalated over the last year. This is enough of a problem, but what if you aren’t getting the quality — or even the feed ingredients — that you are paying for? 

Substitutions occur, it’s a fact. They occur for a variety of reasons, including human error, ingredient is out of stock, or similar products available. It is difficult to verify that everything on your ration sheet — particularly a product prepared at a feed mill — is actually being delivered to your farm.

Incorrect or improper feed can lead to a whole host of problems that cost more than the feed itself, such as lost milk production, displaced abomasums, ketosis, reproduction problems and foot-and-leg issues.

With feed prices reaching all-time highs, this is an area that requires close scrutiny. Here are some simple guidelines to ensure you are receiving the ingredients that you paid for.

1. Have a list of preferred suppliers

Ask for certification. Become familiar with terms like Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point, or HACCP. If a feed mill or manufacturer has been HACCP-certified, you can be assured that process controls are in place to produce a safe product. “If a feed mill has a quality-control program in place, the end product should be safe,” says Jenna Dibble, an inspector with the feed, fertilizer and livestock drugs division of the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

“It is very important to evaluate your suppliers and only do business with companies who have quality standards in place,” says Scott Rutgers, plant manager with Nutrius, a feed mill located in Kingsburg, Calif. 

Ask to see copies of assays for vitamins, minerals and heavy metals. There is an influx of ingredients coming from foreign countries, and assays can help verify that these ingredients meet product-purity standards.

If you have a mill that’s not willing to work with you, or you are consistently having problems with XYZ Company, then work with your nutritionist to find a feed manufacturer who will meet your requests, Dibble says.

2. Look at the labels

Labeling of feed ingredients is critical. “When you receive a shipment of feed from your mill or supplier, compare the label with your spec sheet,” says Dibble. The label on the product is everything. If it’s on the label, it has to be there.

In some states, feed ingredients are bunched on the label. In California, each ingredient has to be listed individually and in decreasing amounts. The brand name, volume and official name of the product should be listed. “If you are concerned that ingredients ordered aren’t actually in the product, this is the first place you should look,” notes Dibble.

It is the responsibility of the nutritionist formulating the ration and the purchaser at the feed mill to work together to make sure the formula specifications are met. Dibble recommends putting all label specifications in the feed contract.

3. Visually inspect feed deliveries

Look at every delivery that comes onto your farm.

“I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to look at everything coming onto your farm. If the feed you ordered is pink, and it’s always been blue, that’s a problem,” Dibble says.

Wrong deliveries happen; she’s seen it.

“I was sampling feeds at a dairy when the feed mill delivered a load,” Dibble says. “Since I was there, I checked the delivery with the spec sheets from the nutritionist, and the feed being delivered had another dairy’s name on it. The truck driver said it didn’t matter — he had a load coming for this dairy later in the week.” Nevertheless, Dibble insisted on having the feed sent back.

Most of the time, she says, dairy producers are more concerned about scale weight than they are the actual physical product delivered. “You need to start looking at the physical product delivered.”

“If you received the wrong feed or unspecified feed and fed it without knowing, there really is no recourse,” says Brad Barr, president of William C. Loughlin and Company, which markets value-added feed ingredients for livestock and poultry.

If a product delivered appears damaged or you are unsure about it, call your state agriculture department.

4. Sample feed

Sample feeds on a regular basis. If there are errors in the percentages of ingredients delivered, that can be huge, says Michael DeGroot, an independent nutritionist from Visalia, Calif. 

“My job is based on performance, and I want my customers to know what I’m putting in the rations is what they are getting,” DeGroot says. He tests vitamins, minerals and forages for his customers regularly.

DeGroot says he first noticed that substitutions were an issue when he added ingredients to increase reproduction and milk production in a ration.

He didn’t see a result, so he started to look at what went wrong and discovered the ingredients weren’t there. “Since then, I’ve discovered that it’s not always the problem that an ingredient is missing; sometimes, it’s double or triple the amount,” he says.

“If you’re aren’t sampling and testing ingredients, it can be a guessing game if the right ones are there,” says DeGroot. Even if you are using a complete mix, you are susceptible to errors.

5. Specify ingredients

Be specific about the actual ingredients, brand names and amounts. Include these on your ration sheet in addition to nutrient requirements.

“I specify exactly what I want, and the mill has to send it back for my approval. If you send nutrient specs only, it becomes a least-cost ration and substitution of inferior ingredients is likely,” says DeGroot.

The most common substitution he sees is sodium bicarbonate and sodium sesquicarbonate. “If I ask for a specific ingredient, there is a reason I ask for it,” states DeGroot.

He also says to be specific with carriers in the ration. “A carrier substitution can change the whole viscosity of a ration-rice hulls and almond shells are two completely different things.”

Here is an example how DeGroot specifies an ingredient:

      Brand Name    Recommended feeding level

      Zinpro 100    .0079 pounds per head per day

Zinpro products contain micro-tracers, which gives nutritionists a sampling tool to ensure that their products are making it into the ration.

6. Set guarantees

Set and request guarantee levels for each feed ingredient in the ration. This needs to be defined in the specifications sent by the nutritionist.

You should get what you pay for, and asking for a guarantee is one way to ensure just that.

“If you don’t ask for a guarantee you are not demanding quality, and dairy producers need to start demanding quality,” says Dibble.

“If you don’t know substitutions were made and don’t adjust rations based on substitutions, you might have problems,” says Manuel Soares of FeedWatch, a feed-management software program from Valley Agriculture Software.

Following these guidelines can help you ensure that correct feed ingredients are being delivered to your farm and you are getting what you pay for.


There are differences between ingredients

Substituting ingredients may give you the least-cost ration, but you need to be aware that there are differences between ingredients.

“If the intended purpose of the ingredient is to be absorbed in the intestine, the inferior product might not make it to the small intestine,” says Brad Barr, president of William C. Loughlin and Company, which markets value-added feed ingredients for livestock and poultry.

“Ammonium chloride from China is cheaper, but it will cake up, making it very difficult to work with and store. The U.S. product is 40 percent more expensive, but it doesn’t cake up,” he further explains. If you want to substitute, you have to be comfortable with the potential side-effects.

You may not get the results promised by research trials if you substitute ingredients. “Don’t substitute ingredients unless they are backed by peer-reviewed research specific to that class and method of manufacturing,” Barr states. 

Substitutions have different purity levels and may not be as stable. Inferior ingredients may mix differently, settling to the bottom and affecting ingredient compatibility and accurate nutrient delivery to the cow.

Meet with your preferred suppliers

Not only should you have a list of preferred suppliers, you should have a sit-down meeting with your nutritionist and the production supervisor at the feed mill. Interview them to discuss compatibility of ingredients, their mixing ability and bulk density. Go on a tour of the mill. Find out what the quality-assurance protocols are.

“It is in everyone’s best interest to have a sit-down meeting with the supplier and discuss goals, feeding expectations and to see the assays on vitamins, minerals and heavy metals,” says Brad Barr, president of William C. Loughlin and Company, which markets value-added feed ingredients for livestock and poultry.

Right now, there is an influx of feed ingredients coming into the United States from foreign countries. “Approximately 90 percent of the inorganic trace minerals used in today’s dairy rations are coming from a foreign country,” says Barr.

It is very important to pay attention to assays and purity levels of ingredients.



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