Animal production

The place of animal feeding in a sustainable farm

A sustainable farm is a place where farm structure, animal concentration, manure management, impact on the environment, soil, biodiversity and community, etc. come together. Consumers and food processors want to be sure that the food or raw material supplied to them for processing actually comes from agriculture that takes into account the protection of biodiversity, climate and public needs. This is made possible by certification systems, both national and international.

Food quality certification and animal nutrition
The certificate of quality in livestock production is intended as a guarantee for the final consumer that the marketed product is fully safe for both the life and health of the consumer and has been produced with care for the environment and with respect for animal welfare. The most common quality certifications not only allow full traceability of the product on a farm-to-table basis but also help promote certain consumer trends. Certification standards vary depending on the nature of the product, the certifying body or the country to which the certification is associated. It is worth noting that companies such as KFC, McDonald`s, PizzaHut, Subway, Tesco, etc. have their own quality standards and certification. This ensures that on the shelves of these stores and plates in these restaurants, you will find products from reliable suppliers. Many Polish suppliers strive to obtain the most demanding quality certifications, not only to establish cooperation with the most prestigious clients but to become more recognisable, reliable and valued by the consumer.

Quality certificates are awarded to various parts of the supply chain, in many cases including poultry or cow farms, but also feed mixing plants. The certification process itself is based on special procedures, which culminate in an independent audit and issuance of a document confirming compliance with the requirements. Unfortunately, it also happens that for some reason the audited entity does not meet the most important, critical requirements and must undergo the audit (upon implementing corrective actions) once again. Preparing for the audit itself means working on both documents and actually implementing certain procedures, purchasing the required equipment, etc. More and more food companies appreciate quality-certified suppliers, also as far as the financial aspect is concerned.

Foreign quality systems, in terms of animal nutrition, touch on various issues. Many of them analyse in detail the compositions of the feed and additives used, their origin or microbiological safety both at the stage of production and use in livestock. Some rely heavily on local producers and suppliers, promoting them with extra points. All of them emphasise the traceability of feed and its ingredients, microbiological safety and animal welfare in this regard.

National quality certificates
Poland has been working for years to develop certified quality systems, and the logos of several of them can be found on products on sale:

  • QMP (Quality Meat Program) – a quality system for beef, developed by the Polish Association of Meat Cattle Producers. It includes:
    • QMP-Cattle [QMP-Bydło] for beef livestock production;
    • QMP-Fodder [QMP-Pasze] for fodder processing;
    • QMP-Transport for animal transportation;
    • QMP Meat [QMP-Mięso] for meat processing.
  • PQS (Pork Quality System) – a quality system for pork, its goal is to produce lean, non-fatty meat with meat quality parameters important to consumers and processors, increasing its shelf life, culinary and processing suitability, as well as its attractiveness and palatability to consumers. The system was developed by the “POLSUS” Polish Association of Pig Breeders and Producers and the “Polskie Mięso” Association.
  • QAFP (Quality Assurance for Food Products) (MRiRW, 2017) – covers pork, poultry and cold meat (poultry, pork-beef).

Foreign quality certifications
In the European Union countries, in addition to common food quality systems, there are national (domestic) systems. Most of them cover current consumer trends such as livestock welfare, proper herd health supervision (with a special focus on the use of antibiotics), and microbiological safety (mainly regarding dangerous zoonoses; salmonellosis, campylobacteriosis, etc.) of sustainable production. Interesting certifications that have specific requirements for feed and animal nutrition seem to be first and foremost:

  • QS (Germany)
  • Red Tractor/Genesis Gap (UK)
  • Labelle Rouge (France)
  • Beter Leven (Better Life, Netherlands)
  • Next Level (Denmark)

Many of these certifications stipulate using “non-GMO” and free of animal additives feed only. Often, additional quality certifications are also required for feed mixing plants and even for individual raw materials (confirming, for example, the soybeans do not from equatorial forest areas, or a sustainable fishery certificate for fishmeal ingredients). QS-type certifications have a separate system of requirements and audits for feed mixing plants, including supervision not only of the production process itself and its safety but also supervision of raw materials, their storage or transportation. If the livestock farmer produces the feed on their own, they can also apply for certification, in which case the audit will cover both breeding and feed production. The requirements for farms that produce their own feed are slightly different than those for feed mixing plants but still emphasise the same elements: traceability of raw materials and their safety, sustainable crop production, microbiological safety of feed and its control, storage and production security (birds, rodents, insects, etc.).

In the case of breeder audits, not only feed itself and its documentation are checked, but also aspects related to:

  • feed storage and its potential contamination (e.g., when using feed programs in poultry, involving the use of coccidiostats with a withdrawal period, or when there is a suspected microbiological risk, e.g., a contaminated batch of feed with mycotoxins or salmonella),
  • feed labelling (traceability),
  • cleaning and disinfection of silos, feed transport means, feeders, etc.,
  • adequate number of feeders in relation to herd density,
  • the right kind of feeders adapted to the species,
  • the appropriate distance an animal must travel to take in feed,
  • time of access to feed (e.g., in the case of the chicken broiler: constant access to feed, fasting only at a specific time – a certain number of hours before slaughter).

Quality systems for many manufacturers and suppliers in the food industry supply chain are increasingly standard. Independent audits carried out by specialists ensure reliable control of both the feed production itself, its quality and safety, and the animal feeding process itself, including a properly prepared feeding area, the comfort of feed intake, etc. Importance of animal nutrition for animal welfare and health

Animal nutrition forms an inseparable triangle with their welfare and health. Without proper feeding of livestock, we cannot ensure their welfare or guarantee individual or group health.

Nutritional errors are one of the main causes of many diseases and weakened animal immunity translating into their productivity, both in terms of quantity and quality, and ultimately into the financial indicators of the farm. Such errors can disrupt the behaviour of livestock in various ways (impaired health, periodic poisoning, increased aggression) making it difficult to achieve proper animal welfare. Importance of animal nutrition for productivity and farm finances

When considering the importance of animal nutrition for productivity and farm finances, it is important to remember how many factors affect these parameters. The topic is much more complex than just the cost of feed, or using specific feed from one’s own production or purchase, or arranging rations for one’s livestock. Organisation is also key to the economics of production, including management of the feeding process, its automation, the precision of feed distribution, and the entire feeding system. These factors have a major impact not only on costs but also on the volume and quality of production, which are inextricably linked to its stability and profitability, being derivative of animal health. Another very important factor is market access. Prices for agricultural products are subject to significant and relatively rapid seasonal changes, as well as those resulting from exchange rate changes, inflation, international regulations, weather patterns, global conflicts and more. Producing anything without at least initial security of receipt and payment for a significant portion of the output is burdened with great financial risk, which could lead to the collapse of the farm.

Feeding cattle under today’s production conditions and fluctuating profitability is a real challenge. Properly balancing a ration requires knowledge of nutrition, feed analysis, and the right program to calculate it. In addition, this feed must be properly prepared and administered. Ruminant feeding should always be based on farm-produced roughage. For this, a balanced selection of concentrate feed appropriate for the production group is necessary. Some of them can be produced on one’s own farm, but high-protein feed are mainly purchased components, i.e. soybean or rapeseed meal.

It is always important to remember that a different approach is required to feed beef cattle than a dairy herd. A sustainable approach to dairy production is not about achieving record yields. With very good herd health, high fertility rates, animal longevity and good milk parameters, we will ensure optimal profitability of production with the lowest costs and optimally high income. Similarly, for beef cattle, it will be important to have as healthy a maternal herd as possible, good calving rates, healthy calves and low costs of producing 1 kg of livestock.

According to the PFHBiPM report for 2021, nearly 88.76% of the dairy cow population under evaluation are Polish Holstein-Friesian cattle (of which PHF black and white – 85.06% and PHF red and white – 3.70%). Thus, a significant proportion of Poland’s dairy cattle are animals with high genetic potential, which can be productively realised mainly depending on the quality of nutrition.

Feeding cattle is the main cost of maintaining this branch of agricultural production. Nearly 40-60% of the costs of milk production are the production and purchase of feed, costs related to administering them, and labour inputs. The correctness and quality of nutrition and the level of management of the herd determine the production effect to the greatest extent.

A properly managed, well-fed herd means:

  • production at a profitable level,
  • lower risk of metabolic diseases,
  • lower costs of veterinary care,
  • proper course of reproduction, fertility,
  • easy calving,
  • length of use of the core herd (longevity of cows),
  • normal weight gain of fattening animals.

We can talk about the profitability of running a dairy farm when the profit exceeds the costs of running it. Thus, one of the conditions for maintaining the profitability of running a farm is the ability to prepare its own feed base, matched to the size of the herd, consisting of high-quality feed. Therefore, any planning should begin with the establishment of estimates, which should be arranged based on an analysis of previous years on the farm, taking into account the structure of arable land, land-use areas and plantations. It is also necessary to take into account the possibility of making adjustments in the planning upon considering the market situation – e.g., allocating more land for the production of high-protein feed.

As in livestock-related production, also in this case the largest cost burden is on animal nutrition. A measure of production efficiency is information on the amount of feed consumed by a porker per kg of weight gain. In pork livestock production, covering pigs’ nutrient requirements to meet livestock and production needs is the largest cost item. The cost of producing 1 kg of pork livestock in percentage terms is mostly: feed 55-70%; labour 10-15%; veterinary care 2-5%; building depreciation 6-16%; loan repayment and other costs 2-10%. The most desirable scenario is to produce feed on the farm for own needs, using only a small amount of purchased feed or supplements. Breeders are looking to save money, however, the use of cheap, and thus usually low-digestible feed of poor quality, increases rather than decreases the cost of feeding and overall production. This is especially evident when analysing unit costs of production, a good example being the calculation of the feed conversion ratio (FCR). The feed conversion ratio is influenced by genetics, animal health, welfare and environment, and feed (quality, losses). Controlling and ensuring that the FCR is as low as possible is a prerequisite for the profitability of ongoing breeding. An increase of 0.1 FCR can mean higher feed consumption of 8 – 10 kg per animal in fattening. In addition, the use of precision feeding methods can reduce feeding costs by up to 15-20%, while achieving the desired environmental effects.

Of great importance for the amount of feed, its rationing and storage is the cycle in which production takes place. The closed cycle generates the need for various types of rations for each technology group. This involves an increased amount of work – it is necessary to develop ration formulas for all groups and for specific farm resources. A closed cycle, therefore, also requires more storage space (warehouses, silos, feed protection products), which is also a cost to be considered when planning the budget. Open cycle, on the other hand, is limited to a selected technology group, and due to narrow specialisation, nutrition issues are much simpler to manage and significantly cheaper.

The feed rationing system in pig production is also of financial importance. There are several ways to feed pigs in practice, but two in particular have gained popularity recently: dry feeding and wet feeding. The dry feeding system allows for complete mechanisation and can reduce labour and investment costs. It also allows for greater hygiene. Wet feeding – now more popular – allows the use of liquid or wet waste feed. This makes it possible to significantly reduce the cost of feedstuffs that are waste from the agro-food industry, sugar refineries or distilleries. Such feedstuffs make it possible to arrange a feed ration cheaper than in traditional feeding. Each of these systems has its own strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, the selection should always be guided by the capabilities and specifics of the farm to choose the optimal one in terms of production and cost efficiency.


Poultry feeding costs can account for up to 75% of the total production costs. Thus, this is a very important factor that determines the profitability of production. Poultry nutrition should be considered taking into account the functional direction of the birds – slaughter or laying. Parent flocks will be fed differently than birds on large-scale slaughter poultry farms. Organic poultry farming will be governed by completely different feeding standards. Properly balanced feed has a major impact on the health of birds regardless of the direction of production and the achievement of production and economic goals. The right method of feeding will also affect the profitability of production.

It is fundamental to select nutrition depending on the direction of production, the life stage of the birds and the capabilities of the facility. A very important aspect of poultry feeding is also the environmental impact of poultry farms, which can cause a significant reduction in the conduct of this production. The extent of environmental impact is closely related to the volume of production and also the intensity of feeding. In organic slaughter poultry farming, intensive feeding is abandoned in order to obtain a product with the culinary parameters expected by consumers. This branch of production usually assumes a lower supply of nutrients in the feed mix while extending the period for reaching slaughter weight. Higher production costs are reflected in the price of the final product. As a result, the environmental impact of organic farms is less than that of large-scale farms. Emissions from poultry farms are closely related to the number of birds, and the nature and composition of the droppings. What is in the faeces is derived from the composition and quality of the feed used, the amount of nutrients and the degree of feed conversion. Of great importance here is the arrangement of feeding in such a way that the animals can maximise the use of nutrients from the feed, while at the same time reducing the excretion of faeces. Better and more efficient use of feed will result in less strain on the environment and improved productivity, which will translate into the farm’s bottom line.

All of these elements need to be seen together, in terms of cooperation with suppliers of products that are essential for nutrition and that we are unable to produce on the farm. It is essential to cooperate with a supplier who will provide the farm with components of the highest quality and guarantee deliveries always on time. Consulting is always important and may often turn out to be one of the most important factors determining the profitability of our production. Importance of animal nutrition for the environment

Maintaining many livestock always means big challenges in providing feed and managing faeces, which can be a big problem for water or air but also the best contribution to soil fertility.

We can never consider animal production in isolation from crop production. Livestock production is always based on raw materials/feed from field production, and the only and best direction, in accordance with the cycles of nature, to use animal manure is to nourish plants. A sustainable approach to agriculture involves a combined view of feed production and faeces utilisation. This is a valuable contribution to nutrient management, which can have a significant impact on soil management, particularly soil organic matter content, water retention and the ability to store unused mineral elements important to plants.

Increasing the organic matter content of the soil entails another benefit: increased biodiversity in the soil. Only about 5% of micro- and macro-organisms in the soil are harmful to our crops, while 95% support them or are neutral, although through their activities they also help them. Pathogenic organisms are mostly regulated, kept under control, by others that we – as a rule – do not care about. Increased biodiversity always supports soil productivity in the long term and reduces production costs.

Good development of plant biomass, a large amount of post-harvest or post-crop residues, allows them to be used to rebuild organic matter in soils. Having lost about 25-30% of organic matter from Poland’s soils since the 1960s of the 20th century, we need to rebuild these losses to balance our agricultural system. This means tying up huge amounts of carbon dioxide in our soils, which is included in both the European Green Deal and specific strategies for agriculture and the environment. This cannot be done using existing methods of conventional cultivation of field crops.