How to Balance Feed Rations

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If forage, either pasture or hay, is the primary feed for your horses or cows, it’s necessary to balance the minerals and protein for optimum performance or production. Different varieties of grass have different nutritional values. Growing conditions, such as moisture, fertilizer, soil conditions and sunshine, contribute to the overall nutrition of the pasture or hay as well. The feed rations must be carefully balanced depending on the animals’ purpose: performance, milk or meat production. There is no sense in feeding expensive protein or mineral supplements if the animal doesn’t need them. In fact, some minerals can have adverse effects if used in excess.

Things You'll Need

  • Hay corer or probe (check for loan availability at County Extension Office)
  • Drill
  • Large bucket
  • Quart-size storage bag

Test your forage for nutritional value. With the hay corer attached to the drill, get samples from the small ends of at least 12, but preferably 20, bales of hay. For round bales, get samples through the sides. Put the samples in a clean container such as a five-gallon bucket or large plastic feed tub. Mix the hay well, divide into four sections and take enough from each section to fill a quart size storage bag. Mark the bag with your name and hay source. Reserve the remaining hay in a bag in case your sample is lost or damaged before it is tested. Send the sample to a forage analysis laboratory.

When you have your forage results, you can balance the feed rations using National Resource Council requirements or your veterinarian’s guidelines. For example, if the horse eats 20 pounds of grass hay per day and the hay analysis shows deficiencies in copper or zinc, you can calculate the correct amount of these trace minerals and add them to the diet.

Protein requirements differ for various species and uses of animals and can be crucial to optimum performance and health in horses as well as the best growth in beef cattle and production in dairy cattle. If you need to balance the forage or hay for low protein, you can add an appropriate and available grain. Major and trace minerals can be added to the grain portion to ensure that the animal eats the minerals.

Tips & Warnings

  • In addition to adding protein and minerals to balance the feed rations, be sure to consider DE (digestible energy) for the specific animal’s use. Other results to take into account when balancing hay nutrition are carbohydrates and sugar.
  • If your forage tests with unusually high levels of any mineral, consult your veterinarian or nutrition expert. Horses can experience iron overload if their forage is high in iron without the necessary mineral balancing with copper.

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