Mix and match energy, protein and minerals for winter feed rations
For any farmer who will be home mixing rations this winter, there are essentially three main components to the ration -- energy, protein and minerals. For first-timers, it is important to bear in mind factors such as storage and handling facilities, labour, value relative to purchased rations, and DAFM registration requirements.
The main sources of energy to choose from include starch (barley, wheat, maize), digestible fibres (pulps and hulls). Barley and wheat have similar feeding value.
Ideally, farmers that are home mixing want to use high inclusion ingredients and barley is the best choice here. There is a lot of interest in maize grain, particularly in beef finishing diets. It is a high energy feed which is worth 5-8pc more than barley. The price differential between barley and maize meal is likely to be closer to 25-30pc, making it poor value. A high energy ration, which will deliver performance and good carcass characteristics, can be achieved without maize meal in most situations.
The main digestible fibre sources available are citrus pulp, beet pulp and soya hulls. Traditionally, citrus pulp was the primary digestible fibre source used on farms but given the price of advantage of soya hulls presently (€20-30/t), soya hulls it may be worth considering. It is lower in energy (0.92 UFV versus 1.00) but higher in protein (10-12pc versus 6pc) than citrus pulp. Soya hulls is available in pellet form but the quality of the pellet can be variable. Check it out before buying for home mixing as the poorly pelleted type can be very dusty and difficult to handle.
The main protein feeds for home mixing are soyabean meal, distillery grains, maize gluten feed and rapeseed meal. Distillers grains appear to be good value at the moment, relative to other protein feeds. This will work well in most beef feeding programmes but a combination of soyabean meal and distillers grains or rapeseed meal may be necessary in winter milk herds.
Don't forget the minerals. All diets need to be balanced for minerals. It is important to be particularly careful if feeding alternative forages, high levels of cereal or other wet by-products. We get very concerned about trace elements such as copper, selenium, iodine, etc, but in a lot of situations it's the major elements such as calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and sodium that are not correctly balanced.
Every year there is some interest in feeding everything from Tic Tacs to chocolate to carrots. A number of factors need to be considered when looking at them: