If you don’t trust the science, you can’t trust the product. That’s Bruce Read’s take on Kent Nutrition Group’s commitment to research. As Vice President, Midwest Strategic Accounts, Read (pronounced “Reed”) knows first-hand the intense time and considerations that go into feed formulations – and the precise process that moves them through the production system.
“It’s like making cake mix,” he said. “You have to have the right mix before you can bake the right cake.”
Getting it right requires research. And at KNG, much of it is done on the company’s own research farm. Located ten minutes from headquarters in Muscatine, Iowa, the land is divided among pasture, timber, row crops, and facilities designated for specie-specific studies. Since the mid 1950’s, the farm has grown from 160 acres to its current 800. Timber takes up about 200 acres, and 200 more are described as “crop-able” by Read, with 140 designated to corn. Another 200 acres are reserved for pasture and 40 for hay.
“Everything we raise goes back to animals,” he says.
The farm allows KNG’s nutritionists to work on product formulations in a practical, real-world setting. Feeding trials are conducted to evaluate ingredients and new combinations to improve efficiencies and gain while supporting overall animal health.
A primary focus is reducing stress for the animals, which includes improving barn environments.
“Stress causes unhealthy animals,” Read said. “It doesn’t matter what kind of animal it is – a less-stressed animal is a healthier animal.”
For example, pigs from KNG’s research farm go to market at 300 pounds vs. 210 pounds 30 years ago – and they get there with less feed and in less time. It’s a similar story with the dairy beef, Read said: “We get them at one day old, they are on milk for seven weeks, then weaned and put on dry feed. They will be 1,400 pounds in 14 months.”
Every animal on the research farm is weighed once a month – a lengthy process given that KNG welcomes 500, 20-day-old pigs every nine weeks. Roughly 50, one-day-old baby Holsteins arrive from Wisconsin a few times a year as well, along with 500, day-old broiler chickens six times a year. Additionally, KNG has 90 stock cows on the farm and around 150-200 beef calves to feed per year.
The newest building on the research farm is the swine facility, which has automated feeding and watering systems, cooling fans and technology that can be accessed remotely to maintain the desired temperatures and barn environments. There, feed formulators are able to examine diets and programs that are different or better than what they’ve done in the past, Read says, and maintain animals in a healthier state with fewer medications.
“Developing compounds that enhance functionality in the animals – like limiting sickness and converting feed better – is really important for producers right now,” he says. “The research farm lets us prove our work before we take it to our customers. Because their livelihood depends on us to get it right.”