Linking Feed Production to Animal Welfare

I love all animals. I may make an effort not to associate with a few of them – particularly cats (allergies) and Chihuahuas (we have a history) – but I believe that all animals deserve to live free from discomfort.

Prior to joining IFA, I taught at a small university in the Midwest. Animal welfare and nutrition were my forte, but I also taught meat science and animal health. In one particular course, a main topic was the “Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare” as defined by the Farm Animal Welfare Council:

  1. Freedom from hunger and thirst
  2. Freedom from discomfort
  3. Freedom from pain, injury, or disease
  4. Freedom to express normal behavior
  5. Freedom from fear and distress

Notice that the first freedom is about nutrition. An organization devoted to animal welfare is most concerned about the nutrition of the animal. Through all courses that I taught in the classroom and at the farm, it was my goal to pass the ideal of animal welfare to my students. If you treat the animals with respect, then Doc would treat you with respect. This ideal was expected even after harvest of an animal was performed. If you treat the food with respect, then Doc would treat you with respect.

This is where the connection between respect toward animals and toward the feed they consume becomes crucial. Because I want all animals to be fairly treated and free from hunger (which as a nutritionist, this also means free from improper nutrition), I must place respect on the feed they consume. Feed production should have the same level of care that producers and animal caregivers place on themselves. If you want to know how this feed/welfare connection is achieved, I’ll start with the “have to” part of this topic: Compliance.

In the past few decades, several laws regarding feed safety, both federal and state, have mandated implementation of feed safety programs and feed registrations at any operation that produces or distributes feed. These laws were enacted due to consumer concern for the welfare of animals and, therefore, the safety of feed. Consumers wanted to be assured through compliance to these laws that the feed sold to them was manufactured according to government standards, and these standards are enhanced with every new feed law enacted.

It’s not my goal to bore the reader with all of the state and federal statutes with which feed mills and country stores must comply, but humor me for a moment.

All IFA feed mills are registered with the FDA, and any commercial feeds that IFA produces are registered individually with each state in which they are sold. That alone should provide an idea of the standards IFA feeds must meet prior to being produced, while being produced, while sitting on the retail floor, and even while stored at a producer’s operation.

But respecting the feed should go beyond meeting regulatory statutes. Quality should be the second component atop compliance.

A compliant feed does not necessarily mean a quality feed. For example, think about the difference between meatloaf sold at a gas station or at a high-end restaurant. Both are gross, in my opinion, but both are also produced by a compliant food manufacturer. Are they of equal quality? Does the manufacturer of the gas station meatloaf respect your gut health? You’ll have to answer that one because I don’t go near the stuff. Does beef produced under FDA compliance from a cull dairy cow and a corn-fed steer have equal quality? According to the consumer-driven USDA beef quality grade chart: nope. Does milk replacer produced by two different FDA-licensed manufacturers differ in quality? Absolutely.

This leads to the idea that an animal can tell the difference between quality and compliant feed. I am reminded of the dairy cows at the university that were offered bagged corn silage as a part of their diet for nine months out of the year. The corn came from the same field and was often bagged within a few days’ span, but the few days of finishing the old bag and starting the new bag – areas that are known to be of lesser quality – offered the cows several days to decide if they wanted to eat or skip a meal. The difference in quality would result in lowered feed intake, which would equate to lower milk production. So, in a way, lower quality or poor palatability of feed can be felt by the owner.

The above mentions about dairy and meatloaf provide some insight in what a feed manufacturer like IFA must ceaselessly and consistently manage in terms of feed quality.

Making compliant feed requires some paperwork and capital investment, but making quality feed requires a passion and respect for the animals that will consume it. This passion – which as a side note is a synonym for “hunger” and “appetite” – has to remain a top priority for the manufacturer. If the manufacturer respects the animals, the manufacturer will respect the quality of the feed that is fed to those animals.

Making quality feed is an extension of animal welfare. A quality manufacturer is mindful of this connection. It is not by chance that IFA has its own internal network of professionals devoted to managing the quality of feed produced at IFA.

What I mentioned at the beginning can be applied to this network: we love all animals and believe that all animals deserve to live free from discomfort, including inadequate or poor nutrition. A quality feed manufacturer wants to produce quality feed, because even the ones that make me sneeze deserve a quality life.

Written by Jamie Allen, PhD, and originally published in the IFA Cooperator magazine (vol. 83, no. 4) Winter 2017. Jamie is a Nutritionist & Feed Quality Assurance/Compliance Manager with IFA Feed & Nutrition.