Ration balancing software for sheep and goats
Feed is the single largest cost associated with raising small ruminants. Sheep and goat producers should balance (or evaluate) feed rations to make sure they are meeting the nutritional requirements of their animals. Ration balancing can ensure optimal animal performance, prevent nutritional problems, and manage feed costs.
There are two ways to balance feed rations: by hand (using paper and pencil) or with a computer (with or without the Internet). Rations can be balanced manually using simple arithmetic. The Pearson Square and simultaneous algebraic equations are common methods of ration balancing.
Computers and the internet can make ration balancing easier. Tedious tasks are automated, arithmetic errors are eliminated, and the programs are preloaded with nutritional requirements and feed libraries. Several software options are available for sheep and goat producers. Programs vary in their cost, user interface, and features.
Iowa State University BRaNDS
Iowa State University BRaNDS software uses the net energy (NE) and metabolizable protein (MP) systems to balance rations for various classes of sheep and goats. The Standard Edition for sheep (Ewe and Feedyard 0100) balances rations for energy, protein, vitamins, and minerals using the substitution method. They also calculate cost of gain and feed cost per head per day.
The Professional Edition (Sheep Companion 0500) has all the features of the Standard Edition, plus easy data management of multiple producers, rations, and feed libraries; automated least-cost ration formulation; ewe, ram, growing ewe, growing ram, feedyard, and pasture finishing modules; modules for projections of cost of gain, feed use, and pen profit/loss; and a custom supplement formulation module.
The Goat Nutrition Standard Edition Modules are designed for ration evaluation and manual formulation of growing and mature dairy, meat, and mohair goats. The software utilizes the guidelines outlined in the National Research Council's 2007 publication The Nutrient Requirements of Small Ruminants as the primary basis for these guidelines.
The Standard editions of BRaNDS require Microsoft Excel or a compatible program. They will run on a PC or Mac. They cost $100. The Professional Edition requires a PC running Microsoft Excel 97 or later. It costs $450. Both programs can be ordered from https://store.extension.iastate.edu/.
The ISU Sheep Feedlot Monitor Software is specialized to assist sheep feedlot managers with both detailed monitoring of animal performance along with business transactions involving the sheep feeding enterprise.
ARIES and CAPRICORN
The Animal Science Department at the University of California (at Davis) has developed several programs for formulating and analyzing rations for livestock. ARIES 2007 balances sheep rations, while CAPRICORN 2010 balances rations for meat and dairy goats. Both programs offer least-cost and analysis (or evaluation) options for ration balancing.
ARIES and CAPRICORN can be ordered from the University of California Animal Science Extension at http://animalscience.ucdavis.edu/extension/Software/. The license to install either program on one computer is $400. An educational license is $250. Free demo versions of the software can be downloaded from the web site.
MSU Sheep Ration Program
Montana State University’s Sheep Ration Program is a free online program that balances rations for energy (TDN, DE, and ME), protein (CP), and various minerals: copper (Cu), iron (Fe), magnesium (Mg), manganese (Mn), molybdenum (Mo), potassium(K), sodium (Na), and zinc (Zn). It uses the substitution method of ration balancing.
Because its nutritional recommendations are based on the 1985 NRC requirements (6th Revised Edition), one of the limitations of the MSU Sheep Ration Program, is that it does not allow you to balance rations for high producing ewes (triplets or better or parlor-milked dairy ewes). The program is also not suitable for goats, unless you use sheep nutritional requirements. While you can add or edit feeds, you cannot add an animal or modify animal requirements.
Montana State University Sheep Ration Program
Feed specifications and rations are stored on the MSU server. To use the MSU Sheep Ration Program, point your web browser to https://msusheepration.montana.edu/.
Langston University Nutrient Requirements Calculators
The E (Kika) de la Garza American Institute for Goat Research at Langston University has developed three versions of its Ration Balancer and Nutritional Requirements Calculator: Technical, Producer, and Foreign Language (Arabic, Chinese, French, and Spanish).
Using the recommendations of the 2007 Nutrient Requirements of Small Ruminants, the Ration Balancer and
Nutrient Requirement Calculator determines energy (TDN), protein (CP), calcium, and phosphorus requirements of goats and predicts their dry matter intake (DMI). The weight of goats can be predicted by inputting heart girth measurements and genotype.
The inputs from the Nutritional Calculator are transferred to the Ration Balancer for diet formulation. Diets can be balanced using the substitution method. You can access Langston University's Nutritional Requirement Calculators and Ration Balancer at http://www.luresext.edu/?q=Nutrient-Calculators.
SheepBytes Ration Balancer
SheepBytes Ration Balancer is a Canadian, web-based application that is accessible from any computer that is connected to the internet. SheepBytes runs on a web browser. Netscape and Chrome are recommended for optimal performance.
SheepBytes provides total flock nutrition management, even allowing the user to incorporate water reports into ration formulation. SheepBytes uses the recommendations from the 2007 Nutrient Requirements of Small Ruminants.
Iowa State University BRaNDS software
In order to use SheepBytes for goats, you must use sheep nutritional requirements or change animal requirements by adjusting the percentage of the NRC requirements up or down.
Because it is web-based, SheepBytes has a different fee structure than other programs. For the first year, it costs the individual user $100. For subsequent years, the cost is $50. For commercial users, the cost is $200 for the first year and $100 for subsequent years. Twenty-five rations can be stored by individual users, whereas an unlimited amount of rations can be saved by commercial users. To learn more about SheepBytes and view the software demo, visit http://www.sheepbytes.ca.
Cornell University’s FeedForm
According to the web page, "FeedForm is a Microsoft Access data base programmed to balance diets for ruminant animals using the substitution method. It consists of 1) a table of feed ingredients; 2) a table of suggested feed component levels for various classes of animals; 3) methods to formulate complete feeds, premixes, and supplements; and 4) reports."
FeedForm was developed by Dr. Mike Thonney from Cornell University. Microsoft Access 97 or later is required to run the program. A zip file containing the database may be downloaded from http://blogs.cornell.edu/newsheep/management/feeding/feedform-diet-formultion-method-and-tool/. FeedForm can be used for goats since the program allows the addition of new animals.
University of Maryland
The University of Maryland Small Ruminant Extension Program has developed several nutrition spreadsheets, including the 2013 Sheep Ration Evaluator, which was recently updated. The spreadsheet uses the 2007 Nutrient Requirements of Small Ruminants. It balances simple rations using the substitution method. Rations can be evaluated for energy (TDN), protein (CP), calcium, phosphorus, and cost per day. The spreadsheet includes nutrient requirements for dairy sheep.
In addition to the Sheep Ration Evaluator spreadsheet, you can download spreadsheets to compare the nutrient costs of different feedstuffs and mix batches of feed. A separate Meat Goat Ration Evaluator is also available. All of the spreadsheets require Microsoft Excel or a compatible program and can be downloaded for free from http://www.sheepandgoat.com/spreadsheets.
Principles of Ration Balancing
There are two ways to balance feed rations using a computer: least-cost and substitution. A least-cost formulation is a ration that meets all of the nutritional requirements of the animals using ingredients that do so at the lowest cost. The computer "decides" how much and what to feed, based on the user's input.Most software uses the substitution method to balance or evaluate rations. After choosing the group of animals you want to feed and the feedstuffs you have available, the program automatically compares the two. The user then edits the amounts until the animals’ nutritional requirements are met.
The key to effective ration balancing is the input data. You must know the weight, age, physiological status (maintenance, pregnancy, lactation, or growth) and performance level (reproductive or growth rate) of the animals you are feeding. While the weight of goats can sometimes be estimated (using linear measurements), it is necessary to weigh sheep. Ewe and doe weights should always be pre-breeding weights.
You need to know the nutrient composition of the feeds you are feeding. For purchased feeds (concentrates, supplements, and premixes), you can use the information from the feed tag. For feedstuffs that are fairly consistent in their nutritive content (e.g. grains and oilseeds), you can use “book values.” Book values for common feedstuffs can be obtained from tables in the Sheep Production Handbook (2002) and Nutrient Requirements of Small Ruminants (2007). The feed libraries in ration balancing software also contain book values for feed composition.
Because forages can vary considerably in their quality and nutrient composition, book values may not accurately reflect their nutrient content. For this reason, it is recommended that hay and other forages (and by-product feeds) be analyzed by a certified forage testing laboratory to determine their actual nutritive content. When having feed tested, it is essential that you obtain a representative sample of the feedstuff. A probe should be used to obtain hay samples.
All ration balancing programs allow you to add feeds and/or the change nutritive values of feedstuffs.
Each year, the National Forage Testing Association compiles a list of certified forage testing laboratories. Visit their web site at to download the latest copy. Cumberland Valley Analytical Services (www.foragelab.com), located in Western Maryland is one of the largest chemistry-based feed labs in the U.S.
Software for evaluating or balancing rations for sheep and/or goats
This article was originally written in 2013 by Susan Schoenian. It was last updated in June 2019.