In the last blog we discussed how each nutritionist/formulator finds one or more feed composition tables to use as a guide or first step in establishing a comprehensive nutrient database. But what happens once this preferred set of feed nutrient specifications is identified? Should we use it, disregarding field information, or update it constantly -- and how often? I will offer two real-life examples to illustrate the problems associated with each approach.

One of my clients, a large nutrition supplier, had never analyzed any of the feed ingredients they were using, even though they were manufacturing some very sensitive complete feeds for young animals. Their rationale was that by the time lab results of chemical analyses reached their plant, these feed ingredients had already been used up -- something totally true. In further investigation, it was discovered their feed database was over 30 years old, and nobody knew its origin. In fact, it was so rigid that they had adapted over time their diet nutrient recommendations to fit this database, when in fact the opposite is the norm. Eventually, it was decided to check major ingredients, at least once per month, and make an annual adjustment based on lab results.

At the other end, another client of equal importance, used to analyze every single delivery of each ingredient. In fact, the quality assurance department had a huge database of all analyses over the years. But, none of these results were ever used to update the feed ingredient nutrient database of the formulation department. Thus, despite the immense expense, the end result was the same: the database was not updated. The final decision was to cut down on lab analyses and perform a yearly review of results based on which the nutrient database would be updated.

I could also bring forward another example where a client used to put on hold each new batch of ingredients, analyze them for major nutrients, and then incorporate the result into their feed matrix as a new ingredient, but this was a smaller enterprise that could afford the wait-period.

The end point is that lab results are useful because they bring a current perspective to "table values," but it takes some effort and careful organization to ensure there is a balance between too much and not enough.