From Field to Feed Label – What’s in a Bag?

From Field to Feed Label – What’s in a Bag?

Scratch and Peck Feeds tagsMany of us have dreamed of life in the country – an idyllic balance of hard work on the farm followed with rewards of fresh eggs and happy livestock. Rising early, mornings are spent doing chores outside with afternoons of meal preparation and perhaps even baking a pie from scratch. Living on acreage, the possibilities can seem nearly endless for raising animals and growing plants to sustain both the 2-and-4-legged farm-ily members. But even for those backyard homesteaders and commercial farmers raising animals, most will still rely on feed manufacturers to blend nutritionally balanced products for their use. It is few and far between that a farm is able to have the time and space needed to make and mill feed. In providing commercially milled feed to our animals, the goal is to go above and beyond what they could survive on in the wild – not just to sustain them but to provide quality nutrition for better yields and healthier lives. While this may seem easy enough, just like with human products, available options are not all created equal.

“Your Guess is as Good as Mine”

These days, simply making a feed purchase requires an education. Scanning a feed label, the information can lead to more questions than answers with many ingredients vague or with confusing names. Most of us will only read an ingredient label with the first purchase, scanning over the list we should be left assured that our poultry or livestock are receiving what they need from a balanced feed. But what does ‘Processed Grain By-Products’ or ‘Roughage Products’ even mean?

Reading through the feed label requirements created by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), the answers remain elusive. Under the AAFCO guidelines, feed manufacturers are allowed to use what are called ‘Collective Terms’ in their ingredient descriptions. This means that ‘Processed Grain By-Products’ could mean the feed contains anything from rice bran to peanut skins, wheat or rye middlings to corn gluten meal. In fact, ‘Processed Grain By-Products’ by definition means that this one ingredient may actually contain ‘one or more’ of over 35 different ingredients! By using ‘Collective Terms’ on feed labels, companies can choose whatever is cheapest or most readily available for their ingredients, leading to inconsistencies in the feed. Quickly looking over a dozen labels, a pattern of mysterious feed ingredients emerges: ‘Roughage Products’, ‘Forage Products’, ‘Plant Protein Products’, ‘Grain Products’; as the list goes on, the number of possible ingredients only multiplies. If the main ingredients in the feed aren’t clear, what are we feeding our animals?

“The Bulk of the Bag”

Mystery Feed Ingredient Label

Feed Label Transparency: The top three ingredients in this feed could be “one or more” of over 80 different (*Organic) ingredients!

Looking into an open bag of feed and seeing crumbles or pellets provides very little ingredient transparency. With everything ground up prior to processing, it is unclear what exactly has gone into pelleted or crumbled feeds, especially if ingredients are not clearly listed on the feed label. Although the pelleted bits and pieces are convenient to use in a gravity style feeder, pellets can also have hidden fillers just like with any other processed convenience food. Frequently, feed manufacturers will use ingredients like midds or middlings, an unusable byproduct of milling whole grain wheat berries into flour, to bulk up the volume of ingredients prior to pelleting. Even Certified Organic feeds can use bulking ingredients like middlings and ‘Collective Terms’ for their ingredients, as long as everything is approved for organic use.

Another ingredient to watch for in feeds is grit. By including grit as part of the feed blend, weight is added to the product but it does not provide additional nutritional value like added oyster shell provides calcium. There is definitely a time and a place for including the necessary grit in your flock’s diet – it just does not make sense to pay top dollar for heavy rock to be included in feed. Purchasing the appropriate sized grit and providing it free choice to your flock is a much better investment than mixed in as the heaviest ingredient in a bag of feed.

“Like Baking From Scratch”

When picturing the idyllic farm life, we imagine livestock grazing vibrant green fields, a meadowlark or two swooping through the air and a dozen chickens scratching through the dirt along the driveway – when dreaming of the country life, no one imagines giving their animals processed feeds. Similar to trends in human food consumption and lifestyle choices, more and more people are looking to make the switch to a more natural, holistic approach to animal feeds.

Like baking from scratch, a good feed recipe will call for quality raw ingredients that add to the overall nutrition, flavor or to adjust the balance for the perfect result. Whole Certified Organic animal feedwheat and barley, peas and flax for plant based protein – the coarse texture of a whole grain mash allows you to see it all. Pieces of oyster shell shine among the softer hues of kelp meal, fish meal, probiotics and other added nutrients. With the occasional piece of hay or chafe left from the Certified Organic farms that grew the grain, whole grain mash is raw and real – feed with character. Using a whole grain mash feed provides the transparency we are all looking for in our food system.

When our animals are fed a quality, nutrient dense feed, those elements pass through into the eggs and meat we eat. It’s true what they say: “You are what your animals eat.” Life may be a mystery – but the ingredients in our food should never be. Visit our individual product pages to see our ingredients labels and the Guaranteed Analysis of what is in our feeds.

Collective Terms for Feed Labels:
  •  Set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), can be used in livestock and poultry feeds, but not pet foods. May include one or more of the following….
    • Plant protein products‘ – plant protein products can include anything from algae and canola meal to potato protein or processed soybean meal.
      • Over 30 possibilities
    • Roughage products‘ – Roughage can include anything from almond hulls to dried citrus pulp, corn cob to straw, even soybean mill run.
      • About 30 possibilities
    • Forage products‘ – Forage can include anything from pelleted alfalfa meal to coastal bermudagrass hay, dehydrated silage to ground grass.
      • Over 10 possibilities
    • Grain products‘ – grain products can include anything from ground brown rice to corn, grain sorghum to wheat.
      • Over 10 possibilities
    • Processed grain by-products‘ – Can include anything from brewers dried grains to peanut skins, wheat middlings to corn gluten meal.
      • Almost 40 possibilities

Learn more at

Basic Feed Definitions:
  • Chaff – Chopped hay, straw, or even husks of corn used as fodder.
  • By-product – The secondary or incidental product created during the processing or manufacture of another food product for human consumption.
  • Silage – Used for ruminants, compacted green forage crops fermented and stored in a silo for later use.
  • Hull or Husk – The outer shell of a grain or seed.
  • Meal – Fine to coarse ground powder, usually from a seed or a protein source that is added to feed.
  • Midds or Middlings – An inexpensive additive used for bulking in animal feed with reduced nutritional value, usually a by-product of the flour milling industry that cannot otherwise be used for cereal or bread.
  • Oyster Shell – Used to supply calcium for laying hens, requires grit in the gizzard to breakdown efficiently.
  • Grit – Crushed granite rock in various sizes used for proper digestion for poultry at all ages.
    • Learn more about grit.
  • Types of Feed
    • Crumble – A pelleted feed further processed and broken down, “crumbled” into smaller pieces.
    • Pellet – Using a combination of heat and water processing, balanced feed ingredients are blended together and extruded into a pellet.
    • Mash – A balanced whole grain feed ground into small, finer pieces.
    • Whole Grain Mash – A balanced feed with intact whole grains.

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