Reading A Feed Tag


Reading A Feed Tag

“What does it mean”

Just give me a bag of sweet feed because that is what I have always fed. How many people have taken the time to read a feed tag or understand what it is saying. Learning how to interpret the information on the feed tag can tell you whether the feed you are buying is the right choice.

In general, all feed tags are designed and written according to the guidelines set forth by the Association of American Feed Control Officials. The guaranteed analysis is expressed on an “as is” basis (i.e., natural state of feed, or including moisture in feed). Starting from the top of the tag, the following may help in understanding what the tag is saying.

Product name and brand name– The product name should be appropriate for intended use and not misleading. If a percentage value is carried in the name, it is understood to signify the protein or equivalent protein content only, even though it may not say the word protein. Other percentage values may follow in the name, but it must be followed with a proper description. If a drug is used in the feed, the word “MEDICATED” should appear below the product name. If the product name does not indicate the species or animal classes for which it is intended, then a statement should follow the name that indicates the class of animals or species for which the feed is intended. Also, if the word “MEDICATED” is listed following the name, a statement should follow that gives the purpose of the medication, the active ingredient drug and the level that is used in the feed.


Crude Protein– Crude protein is listed as minimum percent of protein in total feed. Another way to say it is that it represents the total nitrogen in the feed which includes not only the true protein but also non-protein nitrogen (e.g., urea and ammonium chloride in feed, but nitrate is not included). Under the crude protein, it should list the percent that is not more than the equivalent of crude protein from a non-protein nitrogen source. If the tag lists not more than 1.0% equivalent crude protein from non-protein nitrogen, it does not mean that the feed contains 1.0% urea. Most urea is 45% nitrogen which is 281.25% crude protein equivalent. Nitrogen is an integral part of any amino acid which makes up the proteins. Non-protein nitrogen has the potential to be utilized for protein synthesis by the rumen microorganisms in ruminant animals. In laboratory analysis, the total nitrogen in the feed is determined first, then the total amount of protein is calculated by multiplying total nitrogen by 6.25% (urea– 45% nitrogen x 6.25 = 281.25% crude protein equivalent). The basis for this is that plant tissue contains 1 part nitrogen to 6.25 parts protein. However, crude protein is an estimate of the nitrogen content. With forages, one must consider the plant maturity, species, fertilization, and other characteristics. Example, plants high in nitrate concentration will result in an artificially high crude protein level.

Lysine and Methionine– These essential amino acids are required to be listed as percent minimum amount on poultry tags and percent minimum amount lysine on swine tags. Lysine is considered the first limiting amino acid in corn-soybean meal base diets. These amino acids can be added to diets in a synthetic form. Lysine and Methionine are considered essential because they cannot be synthesized from other compounds at the level needed for growth, so they must be obtained from diet.

Crude Fat– Crude fat is listed as minimum percent of total fat content of feeds. The crude fat is estimated by using ether extraction (crude fat is also referred to as ether extract). In addition to triglycerides (true fat), ether extraction may solubilize alcohols, waxes, terpenes, steroids, pigments, esters, aldehydes, and other lipids. This is why the measurement through ether extract is called crude fat.

However, fats are a high-density source of energy. It contains 2.25 times the energy found in carbohydrates and is highly digestible. Fat is added to feeds to boost the energy level due to some other limiting factors.

Evaluating the amount of energy in feeds based upon the crude fat level alone however, can be miss leading. Factors such as crude fiber and the source of fat needs to be considered. Example;

Corn– ether extract-3.5%, crude fiber-1.9%, total digestible nutrients -80%

Rice Byproduct (bran and hulls)- ether extract-5.0%, crude fiber-29.4%, total digestible nutrients-29.4%

(Reference - Feedstuffs issue, 2015. Data is based on “as-fed”.)

Normally the higher the crude fiber, the lower the level of energy in the feed. An evaluation of the ingredient section of the tag will help in knowing the source of fat and fiber in the feed. If the tag has a high fat and low fiber content, the ingredient section will normally have listed soybean oil, vegetable oil, animal fat, etc., as the added fat. However, feeds that have a higher fat and high fiber content may have its fat source come from ingredients such as rice by-product mill feed, rice bran, dried distiller’s grains, etc., that have a higher crude fat and fiber level. Sometimes soybean oil or mineral oil is added to some feed mixes and minerals to help control the grain and mineral dust.

Crude Fiber— Crude fiber (sometimes referred to as proximate analysis) was used to divide carbohydrates into digestible and indigestible fractions. The higher the crude fiber content of the feed, the lower the energy content because crude fiber is considered as indigestible. Therefore, it is listed on the feed tag as percent maximum amount. Crude fiber accounts for most of the cellulose, but only a portion of the lignin and no ash. Therefore, crude fiber is a poor indicator of digestibility for ruminant animals because some of the fibrous parts are digestible by microorganisms in the rumen. It underestimates the true fiber and crude fiber is less than that of acid detergent fiber analysis. However, it is a reasonable estimate of the fiber in grains because of the low lignin content.

Acid Detergent Fiber (ADF)— ADF will normally be listed on goat and dairy feed tags as percent maximum amount. ADF is the residue remaining after the roughage or forage sample is boiled in acid detergent solution. This fibrous component represents the least digestible fiber portion of the roughage or feed sample. It is the highly indigestible part of the roughage which includes lignin, cellulose, silica and insoluble forms of nitrogen, but not hemicellulose. What this means is that as the percent of ADF level increases, digestible energy levels decrease. ADF is used to calculate the digestibility, total digestible nutrients (TDN), and net energy in cattle rations.

Calcium— Calcium (a macro mineral) is a relatively cheap ingredient that is sometimes added to feed to meet the nutrient requirements for which the feed is intended. It is expressed as percent minimum and maximum of feed. Because calcium being relative cheap, when added to feed, a minimum and maximum range is set based upon the level of calcium added. To know the actual percent level of calcium in the feed, it is usually the average of the minimum and maximum level expressed in the feed.

Phosphorus— Phosphorus (macro mineral) is sometimes added to feed to meet the nutrient requirements for which the feed is intended. It is a more expensive ingredient to add into feeds and is added to meet the minimum requirements.

Salt— A relatively cheap ingredient, it is sometimes added to feed to meet the requirements for which the feed is intended. It is expressed as percent minimum and maximum of feed. Because OF salt being relatively cheap, when added to feed, a minimum and maximum range is set based upon the level of salt added. Salt is also used in cattle feeds to limit the amount of feed intake. To know the actual percentage level of salt in the feed, it is usually the average of the minimum and maximum level expressed in the feed.

Copper, Selenium, Zinc— Although not required to be listed on beef and poultry tags, some may voluntarily list it. Copper, zinc, and selenium (micro minerals) are added in small quantities and expressed as minimum ppm (parts per million) (1 ppm = milligrams per kilogram, or a practical equivalence of 1 ppm is 1 bad apple in 2000 barrels).  Copper, if added, will be listed as minimum and maximum ppm on sheep and goat tags due to the fact that sheep and some goats are more sensitive to copper toxicity.

Vitamin A— Although not required to be listed on swine and poultry tags, when added, some may voluntarily list vitamin A. Vitamin A is expressed as IU (international units) per pound. International unit is a standard unit of potency of vitamin A, also called USP unit in the United States.


Although the least evaluated or understood section of the tag, it is an important part of the tag to understand what the source of crude protein, crude fat and crude fiber is used in the feed. The ingredients are usually listed from the largest inclusion rate to the lowest inclusion rate.  It will list ingredients as individual ingredients, or use collective terms. Collective terms recognize a general classification of ingredient origin, which perform a similar function, but do not imply equivalent nutritional values. The purpose of collective terms for groups of ingredients is to permit interchange of individual ingredients within each group that are available for production of specified animal feeds without change in the feed label or in feed registration. This helps to avoid a practice of providing minute amounts of ingredients merely for compliance with registration and the tag. At Big V Feeds Inc., if the tag list individual ingredients, it is considered a fixed formula and the ingredients do not interchange. Provided are some collective terms used in describing feed ingredients:

Animal protein products– meat meal products, fish meal products, milk products, poultry meal products, marine products, whey products.

Forage products– alfalfa products, entire plant meals, coastal hay, and grass products.

Grain products– corn, barley, oats, wheat, rice, rye, grain sorghum, triticale.

Plant protein products– cottonseed meal, soybean meal, canola meal, kelp, peanut meal, seaweed meal, sunflower meal, bean meal, coconut meal, linseed meal, peas, potato protein, yeast products.

Processed grain by-products– brewers dried grains, brans, distillers grains, distillers solubles, flours, germ meals, gluten feeds, grits, groats, hominy feeds, malt sprouts, middlings, polishings, shorts, wheat mill run, peanut skins, pearl barley by-product, aspirated grain fractions.

Roughage products– corn cob, hulls, beet pulp, apple pomace, rice mill by-product, citrus meal and pulp, clipped oat, and oat mill by-product, straw, soybean mill feed and run, tomato pomace, flax straw by-product.

Molasses products– beet molasses, cane molasses, citrus molasses, starch molasses, molasses distillers cond. Solubles, concentrated separator by-product, molasses yeast condensed solubles.

THE crude protein source can be determined if it is a plant protein source or a combination of plant and animal protein source. If the tag has listed animal protein products, look on the tag to see if it has a statement “Do not feed to cattle or other ruminants.” If it does, then more than likely it may contain ruminant meat and bone meal which is restricted to non-ruminant feeds. Depending upon the crude protein level of the feed, most of the protein source will come from the plant protein products, forage products (if alfalfa is used) and the processed grain by-products. Also, grain can provide some protein. If the feed contains non-protein nitrogen, the source should be listed in the ingredient section as urea, biuret (a slow release NPN), ammonium chloride or sulfate (used in goat and sheep feeds to help control urinary calculi) or other ammonia source.

A higher crude fat with a higher crude fiber content does not always mean that you will have a higher total digestible nutrient feed. If the tag list crude fat at 5% and the crude fiber at 20%, however, there are no oils or fats listed in the ingredient section, then the crude fat is more than likely coming from roughage products and processed grain by-products such as rice mill feed, dried distillers grain with solubles, and rice bran. Therefore, the crude fat is just that, crude. If oils and fats are list in the ingredients, then the digestible energy will be improved. However, for most ruminant type animals, crude fiber is a poor indicator for digestible energy in the feed when collective terms are used. Unless individual ingredients are listed as to what is added, digestible fiber varies greatly among roughage products and processed grain by-products. Normally, feeds with lower crude fiber will have a higher digestible energy content, unless a high amount of minerals are added that can lower the energy content. 

If the feed is fortified with trace minerals (i.e. copper, zinc, selenium, etc.), it will be listed in the ingredient section. The trace mineral interaction, antagonist involved, and purpose of trace minerals is more than can be covered in this section. However, trace mineral oxides are normally the cheapest source of trace minerals.  The bioavailability ranking of inorganic trace mineral source is based on solubility in water: sulfates> carbonates> oxides. Organic trace minerals will be listed as amino acid complexes, chelates, proteinates, and polysaccharides. There is no clear bioavailability ranking for organic trace minerals, however it is believed that organic trace minerals have a higher bioavailability than inorganic trace minerals. The following are some common terms listed in this section and what they stand for:

Choline chloride– B vitamin, D-calcium pantothenate– B 5 vitamin, Riboflavin– B 2 vitamin, Niacin– B 3 vitamin, Folic acid, or folate– B vitamin 9 (also referred to as vitamin M), Pyridoxine hydrochloride– B 6 vitamin, Menadione sodium bisulfate– vitamin K activity, Ascorbic acid- vitamin C, Sodium selenite– source of selenium, Sodium iodate– source of inorganic iodine, and Ethylenediamine dihydroiodide (EDDI)- source of organic iodine.

Yeast cultures and fermentation products will sometimes be added to a feed for the animal in which it is intended to help improve the gut health of the animal. Iron oxides, which have very little bioavailability, are sometimes used as a coloring agent in feeds and minerals.


If the feed is medicated, the feeding directions will always be in accordance to the guidelines of the medication use level, what animal it is intended, and how long the medication should be fed for the intended purpose.

WARNING AND CAUTION statements should be followed as to NOT feed the medicated feed to an animal for which it is not intended, plus to see if there is a withdrawal time for the medication.

 The feeding directions for non-medicated feed are guidelines for the user to enable safe and effective use of the feed for the intended purposes.

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