Is quality everything? Not to everyone. In his massive and invaluable “Poultry Nutrition” (now long out of print) W. Ray Ewing had this to say about quality in livestock feed:
First, let us look into the necessary quality levels. A feed is no good unless it can be sold and it cannot be sold unless it fits the community in which it is offered for sale. Therefore, we will have to study the community first.
If you go into any part of the country where feed is used, you will find that a small percentage of the feed users and prospective feed users have very high ideals with regard to feed quality. Possibly from 2 to 5 percent of the people in the community will say that they want a feed that is of absolutely top quality and that will produce the best results in growth and production of milk, eggs or meat that is possible, regardless of the price of the feed necessary to do such a job. You will find only a small number of people who have this ideal and are willing to back it up by buying such a high quality feed. Quite often those people have the idea that there is such a thing as one “best” feed and they want that “best” feed, but there are several of such high quality feeds possible, one or more of which may produce superior results, depending on the conditions under which they are used. Even when this viewpoint is understood, there are still people who want the best that can be made, with price no object.
At the other extreme we will find a varying percentage — anywhere from 10 to 30 percent or so, of people who look at a bag of feed from the standpoint of price as their first consideration. Then in the second place they ask, “How much for a bag of this feed?” In the third place they want to know how many pound of feed they can buy for a dollar. In other words, they have just one criterion for judging quality, and that is the price per pound, or per hundred pounds. Naturally, it also turns out that they are never a real customer of any feed dealer, because they buy only where the price is lowest and the man who is out with the lowest price at the moment gets the business — if you can call it business.
Incidentally, such people are not steady feed buyers for a considerable length of time, because they lack the sense to know that feed must produce good results in order to be worth anything and as a consequence, they fail in their feeding operations. A high quality community has relatively few of these folks.
In between these two extremes we have the great majority of feed buyers. They are people who want a dollar’s worth of results for each dollar they spend. As a matter of fact, they should have more than a dollar’s worth of results for each dollar expended. They are the sort of people who know what it costs to feed their livestock and they know the results they are getting. All of them may not know these things to the exact fraction of a cent, but at least they have more than a very general idea with respect of what is going on. To be sure, some of these people have rather high quality ideals — they approach those who want the best possible results regardless of price. On the other hand, we will find some who take at least two looks at the price before they concern themselves with results-producing ability. Success lies in sizing up the people in this general classification, particularly with regard to their relative quality ideals…
These considerations result in most feed manufacturers making more than one grade of feed. The manufacturer makes his first grade of feed to fit the quality ideals of the majority of the people in the community he serves. Then he makes a second grade where the price factor enters into the consideration more extensively. Some manufacturers also make a third grade of feed. Quite often these feed grades are “price” feeds only…
The first grade feed of a feed manufacturer must be quite complete from the nutritional standpoint. At least, the feed must be good enough that it will compete for animals under the more adverse conditions of feeding.
The second grade of feed is usually fairly correct from the nutritional standpoint. In making poultry mash feeds, the second grade of feed usually contains more wheat by-products and less of the high quality protein sources, such as milk and fish meal. The use of increased amounts of mill feeds may make the second grade of feed somewhat less palatable, but it is not always possible to attain as good palatability with the cheaper feeds. As a general rule, the second grade feeds possess a fair degree of nutritional excellence only, but the relative quality also varies with various manufacturers…
The third grade of feeds are practically always a price proposition. Nutritional ideas and ideals have been pretty well discarded. The feeds are often put together from the standpoint of meeting necessary legal guarantees only. When applied to poultry feeds, such feed mixtures are not worth what they cost, even though they cost very little. The poultryman must have results. Low feed intake and low feed cost never produced eggs or meat at a low unit production cost.
Robert’s Conclusions on Quality and Purchases
Note that the premium, “I want the best feed” market is only 2%-5% of purchasers, while the cheapskate, “I want the cheapest feed, no matter how bad it is” market is 10%-30% of purchasers. I have no data, but I’ll bet this pattern it true in just about everything, not just feed. You can guess that 2%-5% of people want the best socks, cars, or tax accountant that they can find, while 10%-30% look at the price without ever really noticing the actual product.
If you’re in the quality-product business, as I am with free-range chicken and eggs, then the quality obsessed 2%-5% are your best friends. The 10%-30% who are cheapskates are total write-offs. I’ve started posting my prices in bigger numbers so they won’t even approach my farmer’s market booth. No point attracting them when my prices are three times as much as what they’re willing to pay. The majority that’s sort-of price conscious is a mixed bag. Probably going after the quality-conscious folks is Job One, since it’s like shooting fish in a barrel, but if you can reach the majority without going broke, it’s worth a shot because there are so many more of them. An attractive farmer’s market booth, sales or coupons or free samples to get people to try your product, and other techniques can tempt people who would otherwise balk at the price.
On the farming side, it should be clear that buying cheapskate feed is bad for you livestock and is also a stupid business move. Be suspicious of feed with the word “Country” in the title — that’s a code word for “cheapskate” in the feed biz. Any name that implies thriftiness is a warning not to buy.
If you ask around, most people know who has the best local feed mill, and you should buy from them. In alternative farming circles, some folks are obsessed with custom feed for some reason, but it’s the the competence and quality of the manufacturer, not the use of a special recipe, that makes all the difference.
Tasting the feed is a good quick test. Blandness is okay, off-flavors and off-smells disqualify the feed. It never hurts to use your senses for their intended purpose!