Horse Feed Manufacturing 101: Understanding Horse Feed Manufacturers and Their Methods.
by Eric Haydt, PAS
Ever wonder why the same type of feed can look different in different parts of the country or why you may find some corn or oats in your feed when they are not listed on the product tag? Or why certain feeds aren’t available in some parts of the county? As the number of different feeds increase, the manufacturing process becomes more complex. The following is the first in a three-part series addressing how feed is made, feed quality and the distribution process.
Feed manufacturing has evolved significantly over the past 35 years. When I started in this business, the feed mill operator made feed from a formula, just like you might bake a cake from scratch, but with limited measuring cups. He followed the recipe while pushing a button that turned a screw and added the ingredients into a scale. The accurate addition of bulk ingredients was limited and undocumented. At the time, feed mills manufactured large quantities of feed and a large number of stores had smaller feed mills making more of a local mix. Today, small local feed mills are few and large mills are manufacturing more types of feed with computer-controlled precision. Recently, the FDA adopted new, safer feed regulations requiring independent monitoring of quality control and manufacturing processes. The major feed companies adopted these controls well before the passage of these new FDA regulations and for the first time the FDA will have the ability to inspect and regulate the smaller facilities.
Technology has transformed the feed manufacturing industry. Larger mills are now computer-controlled everywhere, from how they receive, mix and route ingredients, to how they add liquids to make textured feeds. These big mills are now capable for manufacturing as many as 60 different formulas and up to 250 tons (10,000 bags) of feed per day.
The Manufacturing Process Explained:
Starting with receiving, every incoming bulk ingredient is routed and matched to specific bins for that ingredient. Ingredient suppliers have been approved and each ingredient has a specific grading system to meet nutritional guarantees. Suppliers of vitamins and minerals also need to provide source documents of where each ingredient originated. A retained sample is kept from every incoming load that is delivered and tested. Feed ingredients that are prone to mycotoxin contamination, such as corn, are also tested.
When manufacturing feed, mills follow specific formulas and use computers to ensure ingredients are sequenced properly to avoid contamination from feeds of other species. Computerized equipment also weighs bulk ingredients to ensure accurate amounts are included in the mix (tolerances within a couple pounds for a 4,000 lb. batch). Vitamins and minerals are also weighed within exact tolerances and inventoried each shift to assure accuracy. After weighing, the ingredients are mixed for the proper amount of time and then allocated to a bin for further processing. Each batch is documented and a report is generated listing the actual weights of each ingredient.
Once mixed, a computer routes the feed from the mixer to the next processing phase to avoid contamination. Further processing entails pelleting, bagging or shipment directly to a bulk bin for delivery. During pelleting, the feed is heated by steam to about 130 degrees and then forced through a “die” that contains hundreds of small holes. In some mills, this is also where soy oil is added for high fat pelleted feeds. The pellets are then cooled, which also dries them back to ambient temperature and to a moisture level to avoid molding. From there they are sent to a bin to be bagged or into a different bin to go back to the mixer to be used in textured feeds.
Adding liquid to feed is also controlled by computerized meters and can be done during different phases of the manufacturing process—in the mixer, at the pellet mill or just before being bagged. This can change how a feed looks—dark vs. light, wet vs. dry and explains why feed manufactured at two separate mills may appear different, but contain the same ingredients. While liquids are not weighed like dry ingredients, they are applied by a computer at a calibrated rate based on product density and blender speed so each batch contains guaranteed liquid amounts to meet nutrient specifications.
The final step in the manufacturing process is bagging. With pelleted feeds, most mills have a screening or aspiration system to remove excess fine particles. For textured feeds, the majority of molasses and/or soy oil are added in the liquid step, mentioned above, just prior to going into the bag. The first couple of bags are set to the side as they may contain some product from the previous product bagged or may not contain all the required amount of liquids. The operator verifies that the product looks like it is supposed to and continues the operation. A retained sample is also collected at this location. The bags then either go directly onto a truck for shipment to a dealer or into inventory to be shipped later. There are strict time limitations at the mill as to how old a feed can be before it is shipped to the dealer and then the manufacturing date is also marked on the shipping document.
Some horse feed customers get their feed in bulk delivered to a bin on the farm. In order to make this feasible, the farm would need a significant number of horses and go through three to four tons per month. We also limit this feed to a pelleted product to avoid spoilage and to make sure it flows out of the bin.