Animal feeds: which is better, to buy or formulate?

formulating your own feeds can help you manage feed costs or be the cause of your downfall. What should you consider when making this decision?

By Nderitu Nyaga

Animal feeds carry the lions’ share of the cost of animal production, estimated at about 70 per cent of the production cost in a livestock venture. They influence all facets of animal production, from productivity, profitability to the quality of products.

Feed quantity and quality are what make or break livestock keeping. In the recent past, the cost of feeds has skyrocketed. This is mainly thanks to the shortage of raw materials.

Simultaneously, feed manufacturing individuals and companies have quadruped. While several years ago you could count them using your finger, the situation is no longer the same. Every small town and village centre has a ‘feed manufacturer’.

With the proliferation of manufacturers, many of whom are illiterate on aspects of nutrition, quality has become the greatest casualty. Some farmers have borne the brunt of these manufacturers; the lucky ones have had to contend with huge losses while the unlucky ones have closed shop.

So, which way? Do you buy feeds, or do you formulate your own? The answer is either depending on several factors. It is these factors that will help you make that decision that we explore in this article;

Availability of raw materials

The cost of feed is driven by the raw materials. Protein is the most expensive part of animal feed. Farmers who come from areas where raw materials are easy and cheap to find can drastically reduce the cost of feeding their animals by formulating their feeds. A classic example is a maize farmer who sets aside a portion of his or her harvest to use in making feeds. Assuming that the cost of production of the maize is low, the farmer can save a great deal. If raw materials are not easily accessible and at fair prices, own feed formulation may not be for you.

Size of enterprise

Economies of scale hugely affect the cost of feed. Large livestock enterprises take advantage of this and prefer making their feeds. They source huge amounts of raw materials at discounted prices. Most of these large-scale, intensive farmers do not depend on local suppliers for raw materials. Because of this, they can make their feeds at a cheaper price compared to the prevailing commercial feeds price.

On the other hand, a farmer who keeps a few chickens or one or two cows may not be in a position to get raw materials from the source. They largely depend on local suppliers. In this case, most of the time, there may be no difference in cost between the own formulated and the commercial feed. It is, therefore, paramount to always examine whether the own formulation with all its work, actually translates to meaningful saving.

Technical knowledge and capacity

Feed formulation is not a question of mixing ingredients. It is a technical discipline. Different animals require different levels of nutrients such as energy and protein.

Furthermore, animals in different physiological states such as milking animals and those that are pregnant will require specialised diets. Chicks, growers, and layers have different requirements.

The permutations are complicated by the fact that different ingredients have different levels of nutrients. Therefore, in formulating feed, these factors must be considered. If this is not done, it is difficult to ensure that the requirements of nutrients by each class of animal are met

Farmers should consult an animal nutritionist for advice. Technically, all ingredients should be mixed evenly in the feed. This is achieved using feed mixers. The mixing of feed ingredients using shovels does not guarantee proper mixing. The resultant feed is not uniform, and hence; production is affected. A farmer should result in feed formulation if they can develop their technical knowledge and capacity.

In conclusion, own feed formulation has its advantages and disadvantages. The most paramount thing and which every farmer should aspire to, is to reduce the cost of feed without interfering with the quality. There would be no point in reducing costs and affecting your production levels sometimes irreversibly.

Similarly, as you purchase feeds, quality should always come before cost. As the saying goes: ‘Cheap is Expensive’

Do the mathematics. Won’t you?

Dr. Nderitu-Nyaga, BVM, MSc.
Lecturer, Department of Veterinary
Anatomy and Physiology,
Egerton University

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