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Livestock Nutrition

The type of nutrition your livestock needs depends on the species. Some animals eat largely what they graze or forage for from the ground. Others rely much more heavily on commercially-produced foods. For many species, livestock nutrition also includes supplementing the animals’ diets with vitamins and minerals for enhanced health.

For animals that eat grasses and hay, grazing year-round may not be an option. If your livestock diet includes using baled hay at least part of the year, be sure it is green and fresh. The outside of the bales may be bleached by the sun to a light gold color, but the inside of the bale should be fresh-smelling and clean. If the entire bale is yellow and coarse, the hay was probably left too long in the field before being cut. While it is still safe to feed to your livestock, it is not as good a choice nutritionally as fresher hay would be. Hay that is brown, black, or musty smelling is not only poor livestock nutrition, but could actually be harmful to your animals.

Cows eat mainly at pasture, but should also be provided with fresh alfalfa for nutrition. Whether or not your cattle require grain and how much of it depends in large part on why you are raising them. Cattle raised for beef production should be fed a healthy grain diet to ensure their growth and market potential.

Sheep are grazing animals, and prefer to eat young, tender plants that grow very close to the ground. Sheep that need extra nutrition, such as growing lambs and pregnant or lactating ewes, should also be fed grains such as barley, corn, wheat, or oats. Since most sheep will over-eat grains, the quantities should be restricted according to the animals’ needs. Sheep need a supply of fresh water available at all times.

In terms of nutrition, swine are fairly easy to please. Most pigs will eat commercial pig food as the main staple of their diet. In addition to the commercial feed, most pigs also enjoy snacks of vegetables and fruits. The expression “eat like a pig” is not without meaning; be sure not to leave anything around your swine that you do not want them to eat. Pigs are not picky eaters and will usually feast on anything they can.

Most chickens and roosters will eat commercial chicken feed as the main staple of their diet. If you are raising chickens for their eggs, you may choose to use only organic feed products. In addition to the commercial feed, cracked corn and oatmeal or all-natural grain cereals are great for your feathered friends. Most chickens and roosters also enjoy snacks like green leafy vegetables, such as spinach or kale. Most birds will also forage for common pests they can find in the ground, such as spiders, insects, and worms. Chickens and roosters need to eat small rocks or grit, which their gullets use to grind up food for digestion.

As with any animals, be sure your livestock always has a sufficient supply of fresh, clean water available. Depending on your climate and housing for your stock, you may need to check the water several times a day during the winter months to ensure it hasn’t frozen over. Proper livestock nutrition depends on knowing the needs of your species and providing the best foods, and supplements when needed, to ensure healthy animals.

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