Looking at the Past and Trying to Predict the Future of Feed

by Doug Riese


Most rural acreages were single-family farms that raised multiple grain crops and different livestock species. Feed manufacturing consisted of local feed mills where a farmer would purchase crop and livestock needs, as well as a hub (coffee shop) for discussions concerning crops, weather and markets. Many different types of feed were bagged, allowing the farmer to purchase products to be further manufactured on their farm. Bulk ingredient needs, such as protein supplements were delivered by the mill’s feed truck to the farm. A typical livestock ration consisted of whole or ground corn mixed with a protein supplement supplied by the mill.

feed mill truck in transit

Most early starter feeds were pellets and bagged by the mills until the livestock were old enough to consume the rations mixed on the farm. Traditionally, the early starter feeds were a fairly simple diet consisting of corn, soybean meal, whey, fishmeal and animal protein products. Most of the animal medications were administered through livestock feed without the use of a feed script. The feed mills were audited by the State and FDA to make sure good manufacturing processes were being used and that medication inventories reconciled with purchases, feed batching and sales.

Employee jobs required more manual labor ranging from manually mixing feeds, bagging feed, weighing and loading trucks, etc. The majority of workers were longer term employees who took pride in their job as well as willing to work more overtime when needed. Open positions were filled quickly due to the higher unemployment rates. Bio security measures were not being implemented and there were very limited requirements for the mills.


The instability of market prices has decreased the number of smaller independent farms and led to the growth of medium to large corporate farms. Expansion of contract feeding began by utilizing vacant existing livestock facilities and individual producers building new facilities and custom feeding for the larger corporate farms. This growth of new barns has helped crop farmers meet their fertilizer needs with the highly nutrient dense livestock manure being precisely applied to the soil, just like commercial fertilizer.

Most feed orders are being placed through email and websites, and some phone calls. Feed rations have been nutritionally balanced for specific customers needs, genetics and marketing requirements. Diseases such as PED, have brought about the possible need for ingredient changes in the diets by replacing animal protein products.

There has been an increase in shorter term employees due to a job being a stepping-stone rather than a potential career path.

More research has led to implementing certain products to help make safer livestock feed. One option is to clean or sanitize the ingredients, which incorporates an agent to kill bacteria in the feed. Another option is the usage of medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA). MCFA is a readily available source of energy utilized by the pig for growth as well as attacking the bad bacteria in the pig’s digestive tract. Byproducts, such as DDGs produced during processing of biofuels and grains, are used in feed rations and are a source of protein and phosphorus by replacing some of the traditional soybean meal requirements. Use of byproducts can reduce feed costs and lower competition level of food supply for humans and livestock. Every mill must be food safety compliant and has processes in place called standard operating procedures (SOPs). These requirements must be documented on paper or within software to comply with State and federal regulations. This is due to the need to produce safe feed for consumers and by being able to trace and track all products used and delivered to the farms.

Feed medication regulations have required feed mills to use veterinary feed directives (VFDs) for specific antibiotics in accordance with the FDA requirements. These VFDs are derived from a veterinarian and contain the location, the dosage, the withdrawal period and expiration dates. The VFD must be retained on file by the vet, the mill and the producer.

feed mill

A low unemployment rate has made it harder and it takes longer to hire new employees. There has been an increase in shorter term employees due to a job being a stepping-stone rather than a potential career path. Mills have implemented more automation due to lack of job force. Learning curves and training for new employees takes longer due to applicants’ lack of livestock knowledge and specific training for computerized equipment.

Disease has brought about an increase for bio security measures, such as disinfection of tires, floorboards and trucks. Drivers and mill workers are required to use specific tools and protective equipment to help prevent contamination. Proper scheduling of feed deliveries has become important to help disease control and to ensure there is no contamination at the farm or in the feed. Today many producers have a preferred feed supplier for their livestock needs. Preferred suppliers are trusted to maintain a consistent quality feed product, follow farm’s protocols and biosecurity processes. Because of this, the feed delivery territories for mills have grown.


The number of individual farms with livestock may continue to decline, with possible growth to the livestock numbers for the larger corporate farms. The number of niche markets may continue to expand as consumer demand increases the need for specialized meat markets. Increased research will be needed to evaluate economics and nutritional value as more byproducts become readily available. Could intelligent software automatically trigger feed orders, choose correct feed ration, mix feed and dispatch a delivery truck?

Could human contact at farm level be reduced with the use of new technologies? Will regulatory documentation be gathered, recorded and distributed by intelligent real-time technology software? Will water-soluble and injectable medication totally replace feedgrade meds? Will increased automation at the mill help replace labor intensive jobs? Will there be a need for higher skilled employees to run and manage the high-tech equipment and software? Could automation at farm increase bio security measures? Many options will become available.

Many changes have evolved within the feed industry, which have been driven by consumers wanting safe quality food products through humane livestock practices. The agricultural economy and global markets have also been a big influence on our livestock production and practices. Bittersweet would describe many of these changes, from the disappearance of single-family farms, less interaction with customers, to increased knowledge of protecting our environment, animal husbandry practices, and products available for feed manufacturing. The genetic improvement for consistent quality of animals and knowledge of safe production practices within our industry continue to increase. All these changes have been instrumental for the swine industry to provide the world with a safe quality source of protein. As you can see, by the many questions above, the direction of the feed manufacturing and swine production are TOTAL UNKNOWNS for the future.

Since 2002, Doug Riese has been the owner of MidState Milling. During that time, Doug has expanded the operation to three milling sites with over 50 employees. He has over 25 years experience in the feed industry. Doug resides in Zearing, IA with his wife Lisa and has three daughters. He enjoys grilling, raising show pigs, and a quiet Sunday afternoon.