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How Is Animal Feed Made? Grain Processing 101

Updated: Mar 1, 2021

Where does animal feed come from? Understanding the origin of your animal feed can help you pick better feed for your animals. It can also help you understand when and how to use grain processing equipment to make your own livestock feed.

The 2 Types of Animal Feed

Not all animal feed is the same. Usually, animal feed is broken into two categories:

  • Concentrates

  • Roughage

Concentrates are foods with a high concentration of energy. Most often, these are highly processed foods like pellets that are enriched through the addition of numerous ingredients and byproducts.

Roughage is food with relatively low concentration of nutrition. This includes pasturage, hay, and silage. Roughage is valuable for raising ruminant animals like cows, horses, and sheep. Not only does roughage cost less than concentrates, it is critical to the healthy function of the ruminant digestive tract.

Basic Grain Processing

Cereal grains are the most common ingredient in concentrate animal feeds. In fact, corn alone accounts for more than 50% of all animal feed.

While animals can eat cereal grains without processing, grinding corn for feed makes it easier to digest, which increases the energy animals get from the grains.

Basic grain processing means running a grain through a mill to crack, roll, or grind it. This processed grain is then fed to animals directly.

This simple operation is efficient in speed and cost, but it does come with potential problems. Whenever grain is processed, it can create undesirable byproducts such as dust. During processing, dust has the potential to ignite or explode. After processing, dust can simply blow away, which leads to a significant loss in the value of feed grains. Plus, dust can be bad for animals, leading to ulcers in the mouth, throat, or stomach.

When feeding animals processed grain, it's best to remove the dust or use a processing method that creates less dust, like a roller mill.

Making Animal Feed Pellets

While dust is a problem for basic grain processing, it can be valuable in trying to pelletize grain. The dust can mix with liquid ingredients to help act as a binder to hold pellets together.

The dry grain is mixed with liquid ingredients, then squeezed through a pelletizer. The pellets are then baked to remove moisture, leading to a dry, stable, high-energy food.

Pellets are commonly purchased. However, some people like to make their own pellets to reduce the cost as well as control the quality of and ingredients in the food they feed their animals.

Hay vs. Silage: Two Methods of Processing Roughage

Although pasturage is the least expensive form of roughage for ruminants, it's not always available. Winter dramatically reduces the availability of pasturage, so roughage must be processed to make it available year-round. There are two methods of processing roughage: hay and silage.

Hay is a low-moisture processing technique. Grasses and legumes are harvested before they produce seed, then dried. This is usually a passive process, letting the sun and wind do the work. Making the grain dry prevents the growth of mold in the grain.

Silage, on the other hand, is stored wet. The wet plants are placed in airtight storage. When the moisture content is right, this produces acetic and lactic acids that prevent the growth of mold. When done properly, silage can last longer than hay.

Are You Looking to Make Your Own Animal Feed?

Purchasing animal feed is expensive and reduces your control over what your animals eat. Making your own animal feed can improve the quality and profitability of your animal husbandry operation.

The first step in making your own animal feed is getting a quality grain roller mill. Roller mills have taken over the grain production industry due to their highly efficient, consistent production methods and their ability to process all types and sizes of grain. To learn more about the basics of roller mills, check out our long-form article on what roller mills are and why they're a great choice for producing animal feed.

At Automatic Equipment Manufacturing, we have nearly a century of experience in helping people find the right grain mill for their operation, no matter the size. Please contact us today to find the best grain mill for you.

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