Alternative Supplementary Feeds: What do we need to be aware of? (3/3)

In these dry times, grain and hay prices are at soaring highs and stockpiles are becoming exhausted. As there remains a continued need to feed stock on hand, we thought it might be worthwhile to investigate if there are other opportunities out there for producers to consider.

In our first post, we outlined alternative feed options for producers. Our second post focused on more novel feed opportunities, and today we will concentrate on what we all need to be aware of when sourcing and using alternative feeds.

Most by-products and unusual feedstuffs should be used with caution and introduced into rations gradually, even when low prices favour their use. Factors to consider about unusual feedstuffs are: their nutritive value, palatability, possible toxicity or contamination with pesticides or heavy metals and the effects upon digestion and utilisation of the total ration (State Government of Victoria).

It is vitally important to know the availability, supply and price of any product before incorporating it into your flock feeding program. Some products are only available through contracts or on specific terms set by the seller. By-products are often only available at certain times of the year (Agriculture Canada).

 “Funny feeds” could help keep hungry stock alive but producers had to know their true feed value and health risks they could pose. The most important indicator of feed quality was metabolisable energy (ME) – measured in megajoules per kg of feed dry matter – which was important for muscle development, fat storage, maintenance and growth (Geoff Duddy).

What can’t you feed?

The NSW DPI provide a factsheet that notes:

The Stock Foods Act 1940 and the Stock Diseases Act 1923 have been amended to ban feeding restricted animal material to ruminants.

‘Restricted animal material’ is defined in the Regulations under both Acts as tissue, blood or feathers derived from the carcass of an animal and includes any substance produced from or containing any such tissue, blood or feathers, but does not include tallow or gelatin.

Poultry litter from broiler sheds and manure from layer sheds can contain feathers and portions of dead birds, and may also include discarded or spilled feed containing meatmeal. Therefore it is illegal to feed these products to ruminants.

Mushroom compost often includes broiler litter or poultry manure. Where this is the case, it is illegal under the Stock Foods Act to feed mushroom compost to ruminants. Mushroom compost therefore should not be fed to ruminants unless it can be proved that the mushroom compost on offer does not contain restricted animal material as outlined above.

Sunflower hulls are abrasive and not recommended because they can cause damage to the oesophagus and rumen.

Nutrient Analysis

You can’t afford feeds or rations that don’t meet the nutritional needs of the livestock. 

Most importantly, however, is to remember that byproducts are secondary to the plants processing the whole grains.

There is a range of alternative and unusual feed options that can be effectively (and safely) used during drought. However, many of the feeds we have spoken about this week are byproducts of different industries and vary widely in nutrient content. State Government of Victoria notes that apart from these unusual feedstuffs generally being of poor nutritional value, they can also contain chemical residues that can cause contamination of meat and animal products when used as livestock feed.

As a result, it is incredibly important to get a nutrient analysis of each load.

SAFEMEAT, a partnership between the red meat and livestock industries and Commonwealth and State Governments has conducted risk assessments on the use of unusual feedstuffs. Producers can obtain copies of these risk assessments from the SAFEMEAT website at

Vendor Declarations

It is recommended that producers obtain a by-product vendor declarations to verify the content of the feedstuff and understand the full chemical use history. As a producer, you must declare use of by-product stockfeeds when completing your National Vendor Declaration Forms.


Whatever feed products are used, the ration must be balanced to meet livestock needs and producer goals on a least-cost basis (Greg Lardy)

Cost should drive much of the decisions regarding “optimum” inclusion of alternatives feeds in beef rations. As is typical, these decisions will have to be made quickly to take advantage of opportunities as they arise and the need for rapid dissemination of new information on alternative feeds will be paramount.

The choice of feed depends on its nutritive energy and protein value, in the relation to its cost for that value, as well as it suitability in terms of palatability, ease of feeding and storage and physical effect on the animal.

Purchase of alternative feeds often requires an ongoing commitment, so utilising forward contracts to secure future supply at a known price is recommended.

Introducing alternative feeds

Most by-products and unusual feedstuffs should be used with caution and introduced into rations gradually, even when low prices favour their use ( State Government of Victoria)

Other recommendations include:

  • Rule of thumb: most unusual feedstuffs can be effectively incorporated into the rations of livestock to a maximum of about 30 per cent of the total ration without any significant influence on the health of livestock.
  • Onions: can cause anaemia in sheep so it is recommended to introduce onions over a period of time and only up to 50 per cent of the total ration.
  • Waste paper: due to its poor feed value and the risk of the paper containing contaminants such as lead, cadmium, polychlorinated biphenyls and other toxic substances, the feeding of waste paper to sheep or cattle is not recommended.
  • Peanut byproducts: Meal is often lysine deficient. Protein present often less digestable and aflatoxins can cause fertility issues, including abortions, and suppress growth
  • Ammonia toxicity: Drought condition increase the risk of ammonia toxicity. Although ammonia toxicity is generally a result of excessive urea intake, a similar result can occur with highly degradable protein meals if they are very palatable and eaten quickly in sufficient quantity.
  • Cottonseed: Whole cottonseed can contain up to 1% gossypol – a toxic dye in the pigment glands scattered throughout the kernel. Whole cottonseed must not be fed to pigs, poultry and horses, or to weaner sheep under 5 months of age.
    • DAF QLD notes that “Whole cottonseed will not auger and needs to be handled with a front end loader or shovelled. For easy handling, it is best transported in tip trucks.”
    • Cottonseed can also spontaneously combust if it is stored wet or stacked too high (greater than 5m). The moisture levels at time of purchase should be 14% or less (Queensland Goverment).

Final comment

In order to utilise alternative feeds you need to know:

  • your long term feed requirements
  • your ability to handle, store (sometimes large amounts of) these feeds
  • how to store different feeds (i.e. to avoid mould) to maintain quality
  • how to feed for maximum feed quality, nutritional benefit and minimum waste
  • the proximity of your farm in relation to location of the by-product feed source so you can accurately determine accessibility and cost
  • how much to order to minimize switching feeds in rations and to reduce trucking costs

Consider the following before purchasing and using:

  1. Storage and handling ability
  2. Palatability
  3. Tranportation
  4. Nutrient content
  5. Presence of anti-nutritional factors
  6. Cost