Feed Resources Scenario
With the feed cost accounting for 65-70 % of the total rearing cost of ruminants and other livestock, it certainly is the major input cost in animal production. Lack of proper nutrition has been identified as the key constraint to animal production across the developing region. This is because whole of the tropical world, including India is having an acute feed shortage.

The growing feed shortage in the region is pushing the feed cost higher and higher, so that most of the resource poor small holders, who constitute majority of the livestock farmers in the tropical region, are unable to supply good quality feeds and balanced nutrients to their animals. The performance of the animals in such an eventuality results in below optimal level. India badly lack well managed pastures, while the area under green fodder crops is shrinking due to the pressure of human population on the limited available land. The area under fodder cultivation has remained static at around 4 % of the cultivable land area for the last 3 decades. There is little hope to increase area under fodder production or to regenerate the degraded pasture lands through intensive management. Cultivation of Hydroponics is no doubt rekindling some hope for green fodder supplementation on a limited scale. Also, there is some scope to increase the usage of sugarcane tops as green supplements. Tree leaves too can be used as a substitute for green fodder to a limited extent, by avoiding the toxicity caused by high tannin content. With regard to grains, the first priority is for human consumption, followed by poultry. As far the oil seed cakes, these are already in short supply, but unfortunately the sizable quantities are also exported indiscriminately.
While the crop residues are the major roughage source available for ruminant feeding in India, it is the agro industrial byproducts which mostly serve as concentrate ingredients for ruminants. The dry matter availability in India through crop residues has registering an increase of 65 % over a period of two decades, thanks to green revolution. However, these crop residues are fibrous in nature due to the presence of indigestible lignin and silica, resulting in lower palatability and digestibility. Apart from that, these residues are also low in protein and mineral content. In short, the crop residues are inferior quality roughages, but still the countries like India have largely to depend upon these residues for feeding its huge ruminant population.
Proper Management of Crop Residues
Unfortunately, the crop residues though important feed resource in India for ruminants, are not managed properly. In North-Western parts of India, a lot of straw is being burnt right in the field worth hundreds of crores, which not only is a sheer wastage of this feed resource, but it also causes environmental pollution as well as soil degradation. Improving the management of crop residues as animal feed and restricting its wastage through burning should be the priority area for livestock planners. Our feed management should include the use of specially designed bailers for the collection of residual straw from the field after using combine-harvester and subjecting these residues to processing technologies for the commercial manufacturing of balanced animal feed. In this respect, the Technology of Densified Complete Feed Block is a novel approach, which provides a good opportunity to feed manufacturers and entrepreneurs to remove regional disparities in available feed and supplying balanced feed to the dairy and other ruminant stock farmers on a large scale, especially in areas with shortage of green fodder. This can also be effectively used a disaster management strategy, by setting up fodder banks, to save the animals from dying during natural calamities of floods and droughts.
Technology of Densified TMR Blocks as Complete Feed
In India and other tropical countries, farmers can hardly follow any feeding standards as they are unable to scientifically compute a balanced feed for their animals, possessing neither the knowledge nor the means to do so. Apart from being resource poor farmers, their awareness level about the feeding of animals is also quite low. This results in below optimum level of production from these animals. Straw based Densified Total Mixed Ration (TMR) is a new concept in the feeding of dairy animals and is a novel system of delivering nutrients to bovines as a complete balanced ration. Each feed block is a total ration for a cow or a buffalo for 24 hours and supplies all the major and minor nutrients, including micro nutrients required by the animal.
The subject on Straw based densified TMR or densified complete feed block has been recently reviewed by (Walli et al, 2009a; 2010; FAO, 2012 and Sharma, 2015). The densified TMR has two major components and one minor component. The major components are roughage and concentrate, added in different ratios, depending upon the level of production, stage of lactation and the physiological state of the animal. The third component is micronutrients & feed additives.
Roughage part is generally the crop residues like wheat and paddy straw, sorghum stalk, sugarcane tops. Sometimes mustard straw, gram straw, sugar cane baggasse and groundnut halums too have been used as part of the roughage component. In hilly areas, even the non-conventional roughage sources like dried forest grasses and tree leaves have been used in place of crop residues. The second major component of the densified feed block is the concentrate part. The proportion of the straw and concentrate in the block varies with the type of animal to be fed. The ingredients of the concentrate mixture are as usual: oil cake meal (as protein source), molasses, grains, grain products/ by-products (as energy sources) and supplements like bypass protein / bypass fat, to enhance the direct supply of amino acids and fatty acids to the host animal as concentrated protein and energy sources. The third component provides strategic and catalytic supplements, the additives like micronutrients, vitamins, minerals, bentonite (toxin-binder), probiotics, antioxidants, herbal extracts etc. The role of these components in the feed block is to enhance the productive and reproductive efficiency of the animal with regard to feed utilization and enhance the immuno-protective ability to keep the animal as much as possible free from infections. The value addition of the feed blocks can be a continuous research process under R& D.
The making of feed block requires proper processing and can be manufactured on a large scale in a factory. The concentrate mixture is prepared separately and then mixed with straw (using a proper ratio) in a specially designed mixer, to ensure proper mixing of the two components, which vary in density. The mixture is then pressed in a specially designed hydraulic press. The process of densification causes the concentrate particulate matter to get physically attached to fibrous straw particles with the help of binder, so much so that there is hardly any scope for the animal for any selectivity. This not only brings uniformity to the feed, but also increases the palatability of the straw based feed and minimizes the feed wastage. A few agencies have taken the initiative of developing and refining of feed block technology in India. One such pioneer feed company in India has pursued efforts in right earnest and successfully designed fuel efficient and labour efficient models of feed block machine. It is now possible for the company to set up a feed block unit on turnkey basis. Results of the on-farm feeding trial on feed blocks conducted on buffaloes in rural conditions around Karnal, showed a significant increase in milk production in the experimental group compared to normal feeding as pursued by farmers in the villages. Although the feed cost was higher in the experimental group, the profit earned in the experimental group was much higher than the extra amount spent on block feeding, resulting in increase in net income of the farmer.
The Advantages of Complete Feed Block Technology:
The densified complete feed block technology offers variety of benefits, both to the farmer as well as to the feed entrepreneur. In future, this could become the key feeding technology in providing total solutions to the problems related to feeding of bovines and other ruminants in tropics. Looking to the literature scanned and the field experience, rather the feedback received from farmers who use feed blocks to feed their animals, following advantages of this technology have been identified.
A balanced ration for ruminants: In India and other tropical countries, it is normally very difficult for illiterate or semi literate farmers to compute a balanced feed for the animal. In fact, except at some organized farms, practice of feeding balanced ration is almost negligible in India. Densified TMR is a complete balanced feed. By feeding an animal a balanced feed with optimum nutrients through TMR, one can expect an improved nutrient utilization, resulting in optimum productive and reproductive performance from the animal.
An efficient nutrients delivery system: The feeding is almost simple and hassle-free. The animal is not given any option for selectivity. In separate feeding system, the animal picks up the more digestible / palatable parts first, and at the end, the residue left over has more of unpalatable and less digestible parts of the feed. Feeding of densified TMR reduces this kind of feed wastage, which is advantageous to the farmer.
Time and labour saving: By TMR feeding, the labour expenditure is reduced by 30-40 %. Being a readymade feed, the farmer can feel relaxed about feeding of animals, when the densified feed is in stock. In just 10 minutes 20 animals can be fed, as against two hour required for feeding same number of animals in a conventional manner. This could also be a clear advantage to women folk, especially in hilly areas, where women generally look after the feeding and management of dairy animals, spending best part of their life in drudgery, cutting, collecting and transporting huge loads of forest grasses.
Cheaper and easier to transport: Densification of the straw based feed under mechanical pressure reduces its bulk by about three times. Accordingly, lesser storage space is required to store the feed, especially straws. The related advantages of this can be that the extra space is used for other activities at the farm. Since the feed blocks occupy lesser space/volume, almost 3 times more feed (by weight) can be accommodated and transported within the same space than the loose straw. This makes the transportation of crop residues as feed much easier and cheaper. Even the blocks are easier to handle during storage.
Can help in checking environmental pollution: Emission of methane gas, which is a green house gas produced through ruminal fermentation, can be reduced slightly when straw is mixed with concentrate ingredients and other supplements and feed additives, to make it a balanced feed as a densified feed block. It has been proved beyond doubt that balanced feeding of nutrients reduces the methane emission by 10-15 %. There is also less dust pollution when the feed if transported as blocks rather than as loose straw in pregnant looking trucks, which are also hazardous on the roads. Thus, if this residual straw left in the field is converted into feed blocks, this feed resource can be saved and the environmental pollution can be reduced, generally caused by straw burning.
Improved productive/reproductive efficiency: Feeding of densified complete feed block has a positive effect on both production and reproduction. While the growth rate of calves can go up by 25-30 %, the milk yield can show an increase by 10-15 %. After feeding densified TMR, the milk yield of the animal persists at one level over a longer period, causing increase in total lactation yield. Because, in the absence of dietary fluctuations, the rumen microbes get constantly used to the get same type of feed/ substrates, which brings stability in microflora and increases the rumen efficiency and thus overall efficiency of feed utilization.
Because of faster growth rate, feeding of densified complete feed blocks results in early maturity and early age at first calving for the animals. This has a significant effect not only on lowering the cost of rearing, also reduced age at first calving and a regularity in subsequent calving, which could result in increase in life time production of the animal. The animals can be kept free from reproductive problems of late maturity, anestrous and repeat breeding condition. The optimum supply of nutrients, including micro-nutrients has also a very positive effect on the general health and reproductive health of the animals. Thus, the use of block feeding keeps the animals comparatively free from common metabolic disorders and reproductive disorders. It also provides immuno-protection to the animals against infectious diseases, which in turn, saves the farmer from the expenses incurred on the medication of his animals.
Storage of bulky Feeds possible: With the availability of feed block technology, it is possible to set up such feed/fodder banks in feed deficit areas, because of easy handling, easy transportation and easy storage of the straw based feed. Feed block technology can be most beneficial during natural calamities of flood and draught, to save the live stock from hunger and death. The blocks can even be air lifted to the remotest places to avert disasters in times of emergency.
Vehicle for feed additives/pharma /neutracuiticals: In straw based complete feed blocks, there is so much room for improvement. Its value addition could be a continuous exercise through extended research, trying different supplements, newer feed additives, neutracuiticals including herbal extracts to improve its over all quality. TMR can offer a best delivery system for specific nutrients and a carrier for neutracuiticals. It can be the easiest way to administer some specific medicines to the animals, especially antihelmentics to control parasitic infections in livestock.
Better returns to the animal keeper: The benefit of proper storage of feed blocks for a longer period, makes it possible for the uniform supply of the feed throughout the year, with lesser price and quality fluctuation, as against the large price fluctuation and irregular supply of straw and other feed ingredients in different seasons. Better performance of the animals after feeding complete feed block, in terms of growth, reproduction and production could have an over all positive impact on the economy of keeping animals, thereby, bringing better returns to the farmer.
The technology of straw based densified feed block is a step towards better feed management. Apart from providing balanced feed to dairy animals, it has the potential to remove regional disparity in feed availability in India and other tropical countries. With this technology, it is now possible to set up Fodder Banks, which can especially be used during the emergency situations created by natural calamities. Govt. of India, realizing the potential of this technology and a need to enhance livestock production, has thoughtfully decided to offer 50 % subsidy for setting up a fodder block units. This can act as an incentive to attract the feed entrepreneurs and livestock cooperatives for the commercial manufacture of densified complete feed blocks on a large scale, which is indeed, a pragmatic approach to improve productivity of dairy animals in the country.
(References are available on request)

Dr. T.  K.  Walli*, Former PS & Head, Dairy Cattle Nutrition Division, NDRI, Karnal