The key to successful home-mixing is regular forage analysis, according to Paul Blanchard of Roses Nutrition. He says it is an essential part of making sure rations are tailored to match animal breed, sex and weight.
At about £7 a time, monthly forage testing will pay dividends, he says. Samples should be taken from the cropface and producers need to be cautious when evaluating nutritional results on paper.
One common mistake is the failure to mix ration ingredients thoroughly, he explains. For a 1t mix, no less than 25kg of minerals should be used to achieve even distribution. Care should also be taken to add the ingredients in the right order, starting with the lower volume products, such as soya and minerals, and finishing with feeds like cereals.
“It doesn’t matter what model of mixer is used, but careless mixing can cause mineral deficiencies that will affect cattle health and growth rates,” says Dr Blanchard.
“Ideally, three or four separate samples should be taken from the mix periodically and sent for analysis. Zinc or magnesium levels, for example, should be checked in every sample. They should be roughly equal when the mixing process is working efficiently.”
For ruminant rations, grinding results in a coarse product, with rolling preferential to hammer milling, he says. When grain is too finely ground digestive problems such as acidosis are more likely to occur. Similarly, a small quantity of straw will also produce health benefits.
While it is understandable to view unsold grain as a useful feedstuff, Dr Blanchard warns the system carries potential dangers. Visible mould on grain is an indication of the presence of mycotoxins, which can damage the liver, he stresses. Even at low levels, they will cause a check in growth rates and can also lead to sudden death.
Dr Blanchard says it is difficult to give general recommendations for home-mixed diets, as each herd needs to be assessed on an individual basis. Animals kept on slatted systems will usually require a higher energy diet in winter, because they will lose more heat than straw-bedded cattle.
“The ration should be broken down into three different formulations when you are buying or breeding young animals, because their requirements will change as they move through the various growth stages,” he adds.
“I think producers with 300 or more cattle can justify taking a look at the potential for home-mixing. With a larger herd, products tend to be used more quickly, so there is less spoilage. Home-mixing can be particularly appropriate when by-products like waste biscuits are available locally at the right price,” he says.