5 Computer Programming of Beef Cattle Diets 1995 Beef Cattle Feeding and Nutrition Second Edition
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5 Computer Programming of Beef Cattle Diets 1995 Beef Cattle Feeding and Nutrition Second Edition

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Computer Programming 
of Beef Cattle Diets 
Dale M. Forsyth 
Computers have been useful in ration formulation for beef cattle for many 
years. Originally, computer formulation was carded out with main-frame 
computers that were very expensive and complicated to operate and were only 
available to large businesses and universities. Some universities made their 
computers accessible to the public so that more people could utilize computer 
formulation. Recently, however, with the advent of inexpensive powerful per- 
sonal computers and user-friendly software programs, computers have become 
available to businesses of any size, including all those that deal with cattle. 
Computers are especially useful in the area of least-cost programming (also 
called linear programming, because of the mathematical technique used), due to 
the complexity of procedures for solving the equations. Least cost rations have 
been especially important for large feedlot operators who purchase all feed 
ingredients and for feed companies that deal with many feedstuffs. Simpler 
programs that do not rely on price for determining the ration ingredients are also 
available and are useful for many situations. Spreadsheets, which are general 
purpose computer programs (such as Lotus 123, Quattro, or Excel) that relieve 
the user from much of the detail of developing computer code, also have been 
utilized for formulating livestock rations. 
Ration balancing programs are available from commercial software compa- 
nies and from universities for various kinds of applications and for use on 
everything from main-frame to personal computers. Recently, powerful spread- 
sheet programs for personal computers have made it easier for nutritionists to 
develop computer solutions without the need for as much programming exper- 
tise. Some of the spreadsheet programs, like Quattro-Pro and Excel, even have 
Beef Cattle Feeding and Nutrition, 
Second Edition 68 
Copyright \ufffd9 1995 by Academic Press, Inc. 
All rights of reproduction in any form reserved. 
II. Least-Cost Ration Assumptions and Problems 69 
built in optimization for calculating LP solutions, making least cost program 
development available to a wider audience. 
Least-cost rations rely on the assumption that the same level of performance 
will be achieved if a minimum level of each required nutrient is met, regardless 
of the source of nutrients. For example, one assumes a pound of protein from 
cottonseed meal is equally effective as a pound of protein from soybean meal, or 
even urea. This assumption is not always correct. Urea as a source of nitrogen 
will not always provide for the same performance level as natural protein. Calo- 
ries from fat are not always used in the same manner or with the same efficiency 
as calories from carbohydrate or protein. 
Least-cost procedures are only mathematical methods for solving equations, 
and do not always produce the most practical rations to feed to livestock. A 
program may add, for example, a large amount of inappropriate feeds. Under 
certain conditions, it may be possible to include large amounts of limestone, salt, 
or another cheap feed as filler. Careful attention to restrictions can exclude most 
of the common problems of this sort. Both minimum and maximum restrictions 
on nutrient levels and specific feedstuff amounts can be used. Sometimes, how- 
ever, restrictions are not included on feeds that ordinarily are not a major share of 
the diet. If wheat were cheap, it might be substituted for all the corn in a ration, 
but a nutritionist would recognize that while the feeding value of wheat is close 
to that of corn, practical diets would not be based on all wheat. Differences in 
palatability of feeds are not usually considered in the least-cost formulation, 
except as maximum restrictions of feedstuff inclusion levels. It is important that 
the results of least-cost formulated rations be inspected by someone knowledge- 
able about beef cattle nutrition to evaluate the practicality of the ration. 
Another problem results if prices are not current and accurate. Since the 
decision function of which feedstuffs to use is based on price, it is of paramount 
importance that the prices used are correct. Similarly, the feedstuff composition 
for the feeds used must be accurate or the ration will not provide the nutrients at 
the correct levels. For example, the average value of protein in corn is near 8% 
but the range will be from 6.7 to 10.0%. Use of average values for feeds will lead 
to great amounts of inaccuracy in the ration. 
Least-cost procedures do not usually have a mechanism for taking into ac- 
count such complications as associative effects of feeds. Associative effects 
occur when the response to nutrients in a feedstuff are different in one ration than 
in another, depending on the feed ingredients in each ration. 
Performance effects arising because of feed processing methods, even when 
70 5. Computer Programming of Beef Cattle Diets 
feeds contain the same level of nutrients, are known but not considered by typical 
least-cost programs. One way of taking this into account is to consider each 
processed feed a separate feedstuff, and to use composition values based on 
availability rather than total nutrient content. 
Determination of the animal's requirements is difficult, given the variability of 
animals and all the things which influence requirement needs, but is not a 
problem only for least-cost rations. Estimation of voluntary feed intake, how- 
ever, is important to ration formulation but difficult to achieve accurately in all 
Another shortcoming of least-cost rations is that the ration calculated may not 
always be the most profitable one. Incorporating other information into the 
decision process is the goal of least-cost-of-production rations and of maximum- 
profit rations. These programs are not as commonly available, however. 
Net energy concepts provide a more accurate description of energy use from 
feeds than TDN or digestible energy, and better predict performance of cattle 
based on energy intake. They are more complicated to handle in ration formula- 
tion, though, because each feed has different energy values for maintenance and 
for productive functions. The values are not independent; the energy needed for 
maintenance must be met before any additional energy is used for production, 
and that energy used for production will be used with a lower efficiency than for 
maintenance. Computer programs can make the necessary calculations. Simul- 
taneous consideration of voluntary feed intake, however, presents another com- 
In the case of mature beef cows, the energy necessary to gain or lose weight 
depends on the current body condition of the cow, thin or fat. Equations for net 
energy needs in these circumstances are expected to be included in the next 
revision (1995) of the NRC Nutrient Requirements of Beef Cattle. 
Balancing rations by any method requires: (1) knowing the requirements for 
nutrients of the animals to be fed, (2) knowing the composition of feedstuffs to be 
used with regard to those nutrients, and (3) a procedure for combining feeds to 
meet those requirements. The LP procedure allows many feeds to be considered 
for the ration, with selection of which feeds and in which amounts to be deter- 
mined on the basis of feedstuff prices. Mathematically, where Feed,, represents 
V. Use of Spreadsheet Programs 71 
the quantity of the nth feedstuff, and NUT,, represents the concentration of the 
nth nutrient for which you are balancing, the linear equations are represented by 
Feed l + Feed2 + Feed3 . . . + Feed,, = 100