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Feed and Water For Ruminants

This topic provides information on Feed and Water For Ruminants.

In order to get the most out of livestock you must always give animals enough good feed and clean water. Good feed is high in nutrients and provides everything that the body needs in order for the animal to grow and reproduce.

What an animal needs in its feed

  • All animals and humans need the nutrients called carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals in their feed in order to stay healthy, have energy, grow and reproduce.
  • Carbohydrates such as sugar and starch are burned in the body to give energy. Fats are broken down in the body to give carbohydrates and water. Animals and humans store carbohydrates as fat in the body.
  • Protein forms the building blocks of the body. It is needed to produce the muscles.
  • Minerals such as copper and calcium are needed to form the bones, brain, nerves and blood. Plants take in minerals from the soil.
  • Vitamins are essential for a healthy body and all plants contain several vitamins. Lack of essential vitamins can cause problems such as blindness and swollen joints.
  • If animals do not get enough of any nutrient they will become less productive and may die from a condition called a deficiency disease.
  • If an animal does not get enough fat, protein or carbohydrate in its feed it cannot grow properly, loses weight, milk production drops and production of young is affected.
  • Lack of minerals results in such problems as failing to come into heat, poor bone growth and loss of hair or wool.

Types of Feed

A good, rich feed contains more energy than a poor feed and a cow gets as much energy from 1 kg of sorghum, barley or corn as it does from 6 kg of grass. Some feeds are very poor and of little use to the animal. For example, old straw contains little energy, most of it cannot be digested and passes out of the animal as dung.

  • Roughage is bulky and low in energy-giving carbohydrates. Examples of such feeds are grasses, maize stalks and sweet potato tops.
  • Concentrates are feeds which are rich in proteins and carbohydrates, e.g. grain crops.

The large stomach of the ruminant with its four compartments means that it can live mainly on roughage. Animals with single stomachs need more concentrates than ruminants.


A daily ration is the amount of feed an animal needs every day. A good ration will contain all of the nutrients. Some nutrients are found in large amounts in some plants:

Nutrient Plants
Carbohydrate maize, sorghum, wheat, oats, rice, grass
Protein lucerne (alfalfa), clovers, beans, grass
Fats cotton seed, sunflower seeds, grass, groundnuts

An example of a good ration which can be given to animals not on pasture is 3 parts of maize, part sunflowers and 1 part unshelled groundnuts. The ration is fed at the rate of 2 - 3% of body weight each day.

Green growing grass contains all the nutrients but in the dry season grass contains little protein and vitamins. It is necessary to give additional feeds at this time in order to prevent weight loss, maintain high milk production, growth and reproduction. It may also become necessary to give minerals to the animal.

Feed for the dry season

  • In the dry season grass becomes scarce and is low in nutrients. When grass is plentiful in the wet growing season you can cut grass, and store it until it is needed in the dry season.
  • The grass can be kept as hay or silage.
  • Hay is dried grasses. The best hay is prepared from young grasses. Cut the grass and leave it to dry in the sun for several days turning it over to make sure it is completely dry when it can be stored until needed. Do not try to make hay in the rainy season.
  • Silage is grass or other plants which are cut while green and stored without air. To make silage you will need an airtight container or pit to store it in. Dig a pit 2 meters deep and 1.5 to 2.0 meters wide.
  • Put a base of large stones in the bottom of the silo. Cut grass and fill the silo with it, stamping down the grass with your feet. The silo must be filled in 1 to 2 days. When filled cover the top of the silo with a sheet of plastic or stones and a covering of soil in order to keep out water and air. Leave the silage for a few months before using it. The quality of the silage will depend on the plants used. Silage keeps well and animals like it.


Fodder Trees

In some communities’ people traditionally cut tree branches to feed their animals. We now know that some trees are better than others for feed. The best trees are leguminous trees (Leucaena).

These trees can be grown in rows 4 m apart. Other crops can be grown between the rows of trees (alley farming). The leaves and branches of the trees can be cut through the year and used as animal feed.

Using these trees for feed is beneficial because:

  • The leaves of the trees provide good feed for animals all through the year.
  • The rotting leaves provide a mineral rich mulch (natural fertilizer) for other crops.
  • The trees provide fuel wood, timber and shelter from the wind.

The trees stop soil erosion and improve the fertility of the soil. To know more, ask your agriculture officer or veterinarian about using fodder trees.

Supplementary Feeds

  • Supplementary feeds are given when the grass is poor and dry or when an animal is pregnant, giving milk or is a working animal.
  • The best supplementary feed is cake. The cheapest of which is the waste material from the processing of coconuts, groundnuts, cottonseed and palm oil.
  • You can use whatever is available locally.


  • Animals need plenty of fresh clean water every day.
  • Always give water before feeding animals and allow them to drink at least three times a day.
  • Ruminants on pastures can be watered every 2 - 3 days.
  • Do not allow animals to stand in the water at the drinking place. This can cause disease to spread.
  • Water needs will vary according to the feed they eat and the weather.
  • A pinch of salt can be added to the drinking water to provide minerals.

Points to remember

Take care not to spread disease through feed and water. Keep water and feed troughs clean and do not allow animals to eat old or musty feed. Change feeds slowly. Take special care when introducing fresh green feed so that bloat is avoided.

Several methods of feeding animals have been developed such as the following:

  • Feeding urea-treated straw : Straw is a low nutrient feed for ruminants but if it is wetted with urea and covered for a week it becomes more nutritious.
  • Molasses-urea-mineral blocks : Blocks made of molasses, mineral salts and urea are a good supplement for ruminants which lick the block and take in the nutrients.

Source : Pashu sakhi Handbook

Girish Pathak Sep 20, 2019 04:58 PM

I shal I get Pashu Sakhi Hand Book in Hindi Virsion.

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