(This article was originally published in the APPPA Grit Newsletter and has been republished here).
Several APPPA Producer Plus members had the opportunity to dial into a conference call with Jeff Mattocks to discuss on-farm feed manufacturing for our poultry flocks. The call was recorded as a podcast for Pastured Poultry Talk, and an edited version is presented here for the greater APPPA community.
At the onset, Jeff Mattocks, poultry nutritionist with The Fertrell Company, provided some basic considerations regarding bushel weights, particle size, and mixing time. The remainder of the call was a question and answer session.
When a grain is cracked, the air starts to oxidize the carbohydrates, the vitamins, and the nutrients in the grain. Jeff argues that we should feed the grain as soon as possible in order to maximize the efficiency.
A grain’s bushel weight indicates the quality of the grain. A bushel weight is how much grain fits in one bushel. Corn is 56lbs; unroasted soybean is 60lbs.; roasted soybeans is 56lbs. Wheat is 60lbs. These are some examples of some of the common ingredients you may use. Expected bushel weights should be available from a variety of sources, including some online research, your mill, or your local Extension office.
According to Jeff, bushel weight is an indication of how the grain was grown. If the grain doesn’t meet the bushel weight, it experienced some type of stress during growth. It will be nutritionally deficient. Jeff gave corn as an example. If you use corn with a test weight of 51lbs., that’s 10% low. That means the carbohydrates will be 10% low. In real numbers, that drops the expected calories from 1500 down to 1350. A low test weight means the grain grew in a really stressful condition and likely has some toxin on it.
Particle size is a staple of most of Jeff’s presentations, but if we have to buy feed from a mill, we often have no control over the particle size. Whether you buy feed or grind it yourself, the ideal particle size is 1/8” wide and 1/4” long. That leaves a course feed that helps keep the gizzard working and stimulating the metabolism.
“Powder and poultry do not get along under any circumstance. Pelleted feed is a way to hide a lot of powder in a form the poultry will eat,” says Jeff.
Jeff recommends roller mills because they are easier to work with and are preferable for poultry. “After you get the gaps set in the rollers, you can use that for all the grains. You’ll have a uniform feed with less powder.”
Can you mix your feed too long? Yes, you can.
The ideal mixing time is between five and seven minutes, but you should check with the mixer manufacturer for clarity, says Jeff. Less than five minutes results in a mix that’s not uniform. However, after seven or eight minutes, the feed will actually start unmixing itself and separating the lighter ingredients from the heavier ingredients.
There’s a sweet spot in the middle where everything is evenly mixed, and you’ll have the best success mixing your own feed.
Each mixer is a little different, so check with the manufacturer.
“I see this a lot,” says Jeff, “Farmers turn on the grinder/mixer and walk away. When they’re discharging it, all the corn or lighter material comes out first and the heavier feed comes out last. There’s a big difference between the beginning and end of the bin. That’s not good for our animals.”
Questions and answers
Kathy: How do people locate growers? My growers all rotate their crops. I’m having problems finding the same crops year after year.
Jeff Mattocks: It’s just building a network of farmers you can work with. It just takes time. In the winter time, it’s easiest to find them in places where they congregate. Sometimes you have to talk to the local seeds salesman to find out who grows what. Then work it backward from there.
Mike: There’s some suggestion that fresh feed will actually improve feed conversion. I’m wondering what your thoughts are on that?
Jeff Mattocks: I agree with that. I get a lot of feedback from growers across the country. When I start digging to find out how much feed per broiler, I’m hearing a lot of numbers close to 14 to 15 pounds to make a five pound broiler when it actually should only take 10-1/2 to 11 pounds. When I hear the lower numbers, it’s from the people making their own feed or those who live close enough to the manufacturer
that they can get it on a fresher basis and keep their stock rotated. Comfortably, I’m seeing anywhere from a 10 to 15% reduction in actual feed consumed with fresh feed.
Ten percent is a lot of money to be leaving on the table just because the feed mill wants to offer $20 off a ton if you get three; it doesn’t compensate if you have $800 a ton feed, and you’re feeding ten percent more. That’s $80 a ton. I can run the economics pretty quick.
And the birds may or may not perform as well even on the health side. They may not be getting all the nutrients. Not only do the carbohydrates in the grain deplete, but the fat soluble vitamins (A and E) will also oxidize. They’re very stable in their concentrated form before they go into the grain mix, but once they get dispersed into a grain mix, the shelf life is less than 30 days for a lot of those vitamins.
Even from a health aspect, when a bird is challenged by weather or other obstacles, there’s going to be a big difference between fresh and old feed.
Unidentified Caller: How do the poultry pasture mixes impact the feed and how does the consumption of pasture affect nutrition levels?
Jeff Mattocks: The best thing to do is to continue to offer the correct balance of feed for the age and stage of the poultry you’re growing. When the pasture is in a very favorable form, in that younger growth of six inches or less, the pasture itself is pretty much a balanced feed. They’ll just reduce their overall grain consumption.
Every time that we’ve tried to play with the protein and compensate with what we think is out in the pasture, we tend to hit a wall or have some failure at some point during that pasture season.
Once it gets much over 8”, the lignin, the woodiness of the plant, gets high and the poultry’s ability to extract nutrients from it starts decreasing rapidly.
Seth: What are the PTO and horsepower requirements for a smaller grinder/mixer?
Jeff Mattocks: Typically, the horsepower requirements for even the smaller ones is 30 HP. I haven’t seen any that go below 30 HP. They’re all set up for a 540 RPM PTO.
Seth: Given how hot it gets in Oklahoma, would I be ok buying one lot of grain and using it over the course of the season?
Jeff Mattocks: You should be fine, as long as it’s good storage. It doesn’t have to be air tight, but it has be rain proof. Make sure the bin is vented so that any excess moisture evaporates. If grain decides to sweat, you need some vents on top so that the moisture has a place to escape when it gets warm.
Typically, the best time to buy is close to harvest in the fall. A lot of guys may give you a better price if you can get it right out of the dryer or right out of the field. Just make sure the moisture is right. If it’s above 15% moisture, you’re encouraging spoilage and mold growth. It’s not going to store well.
One thing I forgot to mention, if you’re going to buy small grains, particularly oats and barley. Oats and barley go through a sweat just like hay. They go through a fermentation where some enzyme activity occurs right after the grain is separated from the stalk. When you’re buying new grains, it’s best to have enough surplus to have 20 days before you feed new crop barley; otherwise, you can cause diarrhea in your birds and decrease digestibility.
All grains go through some kind of sweat after they’ve been detached from the stock or cob, particularly the carbohydrate grains. We’ll notice the temperature of the grain up for a brief period. We’ve noticed it most with barley. If you buy some barley right out of the field or straight from the farmer, this is something you want to monitor. Don’t feed the “green” barley until comes down to near ambient temperature.
Kathy: Most of my farmers are selling to organic dairies. When I talk to them about non-gmo and non-certified organic, especially if they’re in transition, I can buy from them for three years; then they’re gone.
They’ve offered me the edges of the fields that are kind of weedy.
Jeff Mattocks: Talk to them a bit more. They’re talking about their buffer strip; they can’t sell the buffer strip as certified organic. Then you pay based on the level of the weed seed and other levels of contamination. For some of those guys, those crops are going to be as good as the main part of the field. That is actually a good option for you, as you can buy that buffer strip grain for about half of what they’d sell it to the dairy.
If it is weedy, there are some wire rotary grain cleaners or screens. If you got something too weedy, you could run it through there and the weeds would drop out. Then you’d compost or burn the weed seeds.
You need to be careful. Even though weed seeds on paper test high for protein, it’s actually a form of protein that can be toxic to our animals. So we need to keep control of weed seeds. I don’t like to see more than 5% weed seed contamination level.
Seth: Are all fishmeal sources created equal? There’s a mill that carries 63% and I was curious.
Jeff Mattocks: If it’s 63%, it has to be one of the better fishes—herring meal, sardine meal. It could even be salmon meal, although you would want to be cautious about it coming from farm-raised salmon. It usually will tell you what kind of fish it is. Usually, when you get about 60%, those are usually fine for poultry and swine. The ones I worry about are the ones below 55% protein because almost always they’re coming from commercial catfish farms out of the south. That’s some pretty ugly stuff.
The amino acid profile of fish that are being farm raised, because their diets contain a lot of soy and corn, is usually not that good. We also find the ash is too high, which means the digestibility as a whole is lower. The intelligent questions to ask about fish meal are, “What kind of fish is it and what’s the ash content?” If the ash is much over 12 or 13%, every percent over that is probably a percent less digestible.
Kathy: We raise a lot of trout here. Is that good?
Jeff Mattocks: The trout diet is about half fishmeal and the other half is corn and soybean meal. So it’s on the fence as being a good one. Usually in the trout world, you can only get the fishmeal after the fillet has been removed. Then you’re getting a lot more bone and less meat. A lot of times, the protein won’t make 60%. The calcium level will also be out of balance. I’m not saying we can’t use it, but we need a good analysis of what you have to know how to figure it in. It’s not worth the same as a whole fish fishmeal.
Mike: Some people don’t want to use fishmeal of any kind. What are the options?
Jeff Mattocks: It depends on your moral compass. Some people use meat and bone meal from commercial stock. Some are using blood meal and feather meal. If you don’t want to use any meat product, then you have to have the ability to increase your amino acids. We have to be able to supplement with more lysine and methionine, which is the first limiting amino acid for poultry.
In the organic world, we are limited in how much methionine we can add. That’s where fishmeal gives us a definite advantage. It’s the only meat-type protein that the organic community has accepted for poultry production.
Find the original unedited recording at pasturedpoultrytalk.com. Listen to “PPT041: Jeff Mattocks Provides a Primer on On-Farm Feed Mixing for Freshness, Health, and Profitability.”