Feeding pelleted rations


Drought increases the risk of unacceptable residues in stock. Risks include contaminated feed, increased intake of contaminated soil, concentration of existing residues as animals lose condition, and many other causes. Refer to Drought increases residue risks for details before purchasing stockfeed or making feeding decisions.

The use of manufactured feeds in the form of pelleted rations can be convenient when only a few animals are to be fed or when grain handling and storage facilities are not available. When feeding pellets, the basic procedures for grain feeding apply; failure to follow these procedures can cause deaths.

Choosing the feed

The metabolisable energy (ME) concentration of pelleted feed can be estimated from the crude fibre content, stated on the label. As the fibre level increases, the energy level decreases.

When buying feed, compare available feeds on the basis of energy content to determine nutritional value relative to price. See the Feed cost calculator.

The table below compares pelleted or manufactured feeds with wheat at $150 a tonne. It assumes wheat has an ME of 13.5. If prices are above those indicated, wheat would be the cheaper source of energy.

Crude fibre of manufactured feed* Estimated energy
Break-even value
5 13.5 150
10 12.5 139
15 11.5 128
20 10.5 117
25 9.5 106
30 8.5 95

* The crude fibre value can be obtained from the manufacturer’s label.† The break-even value = (value of grain × ME of manufactured feed) ÷ ME of grain

Roughage - needed for digestion

A manufactured feed or pellet may be a complete ration, but the more finely it has been processed, the less roughage it contains. Digestive upsets and even deaths may result if finely processed feeds are not supplemented with roughage such as hay.

To maintain milk production, lactating animals fed a pellet or grain-based ration require a minimum of 20% of their intake in the form of good quality hay.

Early in a drought the source of roughage may be dry paddock feed. Hand feeding becomes the only alternative as the drought progresses.

Avoid sudden changes

Problems can occur if manufacturers suddenly change the basic ingredients of their products. These can be avoided or reduced if you:

  • buy in enough feed to finish a feeding program or
  • change gradually from the old batch to the new by slowly increasing the proportion of the new batch in the mix over 7 to 10 days, as you would with grain. This is particularly important when the two formulations are very different.

Basic rules for feeding pellets

The basic rules for feeding pellets are the same as for feeding grain.

  • Introduce manufactured feeds slowly.
  • Don’t make sudden changes.
  • In cold weather, increase rations by 20%, using hay.
  • Add hay to rations if feed has been finely processed, to reduce the risk of digestive upsets. Finely processed roughage does not stimulate the rumen properly.
  • Lactating animals will need additional roughage.
  • Ensure that internal and external parasites are not a problem: these can limit animal responses to feed.
  • Consider dehorning cattle—it reduces the amount of troughing required, cuts down on aggressive behaviour and reduces bruising.
  • Have animals vaccinated against enterotoxaemia (pulpy kidney) before starting the feeding program. Animals already included in a recommended vaccination program will not need additional vaccination.

Further information

For further information see Managing in drought, or contact your nearest NSW DPI Livestock Officer.


This Agnote is based on an earlier edition written by D. M. Ryan and P. J. Speers of NSW Agriculture.