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IT IS IMPORTANT TO UNDERSTAND COMPLEX FEED PRODUCT LABELS

by: Stephen B. Blezinger
Ph.D, PAS

Labeling of feed products has become increasingly complex, both for the manufacturer and the end user. This is true not only as a result of increasing state and federal regulation but also because of varieties of by-products coming into use in animal feeds. The producer must understand that the labels are a means of insuring that the products contain what they are supposed to and it helps insure that the producer gets what he pays for. States have regulatory agencies which monitor feed tags and packaging and the corresponding products to accomplish exactly that: making sure the products meet what is on the label. Below is found a typical tag for a typical cattle feed which you might see. Many variations exist on tags due to species, medications, usage, etc so this discussion is limited to the basics. Also, different states have different guidelines for the information they want included but most of the basics are the same. Let's take a minute and go over this tag and discuss the different components.

Net Weight

This designation tells you what the total weight of the individual product should be. In other words you should be receiving a minimum of 50 lbs. of feed in the bag you just purchased. The bag itself will normally weigh about 1/2 to 1 lb. Accurate weights of bags and contents to produce this net weight has, at times, been challenging for feed manufacturers and although many weighting systems exist, given the nature and environment in which feed is produced and bagged it can be less than exact. This is closely monitored by regulatory agencies so in most situations it should be fairly accurate.

Product Name or Title

Most of the time this is simply a means of identifying the product. Lots of attention-grabbing product names are out there and some products from certain manufacturers have, over the years, developed significant name recognition because of the quality of the product or the resulting performance. Naming of a given product is more related to marketing than it is to the actual nutritional content of the product.

Purpose

The purpose statement is exactly that: It gives a very brief description of what the product is to be used for. In many cases products are used for many different programs or species other than what the purpose calls for but this simply states what the manufacturer has intended with this product.

Medication Statement

While not included on the example tag, in many cases products contain some type of medication such as RumensinTM, Chlortetracycline, etc. The statement gives the level of the active ingredient and the level included in the product. Farther down the label information is normally provided which tells how much should be fed to provide the necessary amount of drug. Information is also included which indicates which species should not receive the product because of the drug inclusion. An example of this would be feeds which contain RumensinTM or BovatecTM. The medications have been shown to be fatal when fed to horses so the tags which contain these products should state that they are not to be fed to horses or other equines. Medication labels need to be accurate and closely monitored.

Guaranteed Analysis

The GA provides the nutritional information for the product and indicates minimums and maximums of certain nutrients. State agencies specify the nutrients which must be guaranteed. In other words, the feed company must include a minimum amount of information in this area. In many cases, a feed company will include more than the nutrients required simply to help show that the product is of higher value. It should be pointed out though that the GA does not give you adequate information to completely determine product acceptability in your program. It does not provide dry matter (the exception here is liquid feeds which must specify the moisture content), energy information and may or may not include detailed mineral and vitamin specifications. When making critical decisions the producer needs to request a nutrient profile from the manufacturer to obtain the necessary critical information. The GA also does not provide an accurate indication of the value of the product. Give a set of tag guarantees endless combinations of ingredients can be combined to meet these specifications at a wide range of costs. This means a lot can be done to manipulate the profit potential of a product and that what may appear to be a high quality product may not be simply due to the inclusion of sub-standard ingredients (i.e. grain dust, floor sweepings, rice or peanut hulls, etc.). Welcome to the wonderful world of computer, least-cost formulation.

Ingredient List

The IL provides a list, specific or non-specific, of the ingredients used in the manufacture of the product. This may be a list of actual ingredients (corn, cottonseed meal, alfalfa meal, etc.) which are included in the product. In many cases feed companies will use “collective terminology” which groups ingredients into broader categories. For instance corn or milo (grain sorghum) would fall into the Grain Products category as shown above. Soybean meal or Cottonseed meal would fall into the Plant Protein Products. Processed Grain By-Products would include products such as wheat midds, or rice bran. This gives the feed company more flexibility to modify the product as necessary to take advantage of market movements. Minerals and vitamins are specified individually. Ingredients are to be included in the order of highest to lowest inclusion level.

Feeding Directions

Feeding directions are exactly that, they indicate how the product is to be fed to produce the results desired. These directions can range from specific to non-specific, in many cases simply to follow the directions provided by the feed salesman. Most of the time this provides common-sense information which you would normally know anyway.

Caution Statements

The CS specifies conditions of which you must be cautious. Many of these statements are mandated by state and federal regulatory agencies such as the selenium statement. Other statements include warnings regarding high copper inclusion rates and not to feed products of this nature to sheep. This is also where you would find warning statements regarding the inclusion of medications such as BovatecTM or RumensinTM and not to feed these to horses.

Manufacturing Statement

This statement indicates who manufactures the product or who is responsible for guarantees made on the tag. This may or may not be the actual manufacturing facility. In many cases a product is made by one entity and sold or marketed by another. This statement provides contact information and how to reach the responsible party should you have a problem. In many cases, if this information does not provide adequate information, you can contact the state regulatory agency and they should have a complete listing of who to call.

Feed tags can be a blessing and a curse but generally they provide much needed information, especially that which will protect the consumer. It is important to learn how to read these labels and how to understand the information contained so that you can properly evaluate the product and properly use what is contained within.

Dr. Steve Blezinger is and nutritional and management consultant with an office in Sulphur Springs Texas. He can be reached at CR 4711 Sulphur Springs, TX 75482, by phone at (903) 885-7992 or by e-mail at sblez@peoplescom.net.

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