Are My Animals Getting the Nutrient They Need?

— Written By Zack Taylor and last updated by

We are often reminded this time of the year as temperatures drop how important it is to provide a warm shelter for our pets. That may be easy to do with a dog or cat, but what about livestock? Have you ever wondered how livestock survives these cold harsh winter days and nights? The answer is a quality supply of food. Food provides energy, and energy is required to produce body heat. Therefore, all animals, including chickens, horses, goats, cows, ducks, and alpacas, rely on food to meet their energy requirements. So now you have to ask yourself, does the hay I’m feeding my cows, the grain I’m feeding my chickens, or the commercial feed for my hogs, supply enough nutrients to meet my animal’s energy requirements?

To understand your animal’s energy requirements, you first have to understand your animal’s nutritional requirements. To a further degree, each animal has a specific nutritional requirement depending on if the animal is growing, mature, or nursing a young foal, calf, or kid. Fortunately for us, there are ways of determining the specific quantity and quality of nutrients our animals need to meet the energy requirements to stay warm in freezing weather. North Carolina Cooperative Extension, through NC State University and NC A&T State University, has several publications online, and at our extension office, that give animal nutrition requirements along with feed rationing requirements. So once you’ve determined the nutritional requirement of your animal, you can then select the right food source to meet your animal’s needs.

Knowing the nutritional content of the food source for your animals is simple. For store bought feed such as commercial pellets or sweet feed, there are nutrient value tables on the bag that allow you to know the exact quantity of nutrients in that food source, just like the nutritional information printed on foods we buy at the grocery store. For other feeds such as whole kernel corn, cracked corn, soy hulls, fescue hay or coastal bermuda hay, nutritional content can vary depending on the field it was grown in, the crop year, or other variables. This means a little more work is required on your part to determine the nutritional value of that feedstuff. Luckily, this work is simple and easy. You can determine the nutrient content of these feedstuffs by sending a sample of the feed to be analyzed for nutrient values. The samples are sent to the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, who offers a farm feed testing service for a fee is 10 dollars for a full sample analysis. If you are relying on stockpiled forage instead of hay, that can be sampled too. If you have questions on how to sample or where to obtain sampling bags, then contact our extension office and one of our staff members will gladly supply you with the sampling bags and directions on how to obtain a feed sample. You can also bring your samples to us, and we can make sure they find their way to Raleigh to get tested in a timely manner.

Once you have determined your animal’s nutritional requirements, and the nutrient values of the food source you plan to feed them, then you are all set for ensuring that your animals will stay warm throughout these cold months of the year. Remember, animals require a steady diet of high quality food to produce energy so that they may stay warm, maintain body composition, and continue growing throughout the winter. If you have any questions on animal nutrient requirements, feed sampling, or interpreting a feed test report then please contact me, Zack Taylor, at 919-775-5624, and I will be happy to answer your questions and help you find information.

Zack Taylor is the Agriculture Agent – Field Crops and Livestock, for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.