Most universities explain feed formulation in a session or two, and then only superficially as any in-depth analysis requires hands-on experience; feed formulation laboratories are a rare thing! As such, most graduates with a degree in animal or veterinary sciences have but a vague idea how a feed is formulated. It is by bitter experience, the so called trial-and-error method, that most professionals get to know eventually the ins and outs of feed formulation.
Successful formula designs by purpose
Here it merits to mention two real cases that have happened in my career. As a professional nutritionist, with almost 30 years in formulating feeds now — I developed my own feed formulation program in my first undergraduate college year using an IBM code — I keep relating these extraordinary instances as an indication of how the animal nutrition industry views feed formulation.
Feed formulation is not magic but rather the outcome of study and experience.
The first case was about a piglet feed formula I designed for a national feed company to replace an old product that was no longer relevant to their market. When the CEO saw how the new product worked, she immediately locked the formula and prohibited even me to change it. Only when things got difficult with ingredient availability did she ask me to modify the initial formula, and not without little apprehension regarding my capabilities — she even had the new formula tested before releasing it for production.
The second case was about an organic acid blend for poultry I designed for another customer a long time ago. This customer keeps using it after many years and does so despite my pleads to allow me (free of charge) to update the blend applying new technology. Instead, he prefers to pay for the expensive (old) raw materials. Now, I am a true believer of the saying “if it's not broken, don't fix it” but these two examples help illustrate the almost reverent approach to successful formulas in our industry. I often get the impression some believe successful formula designs are by chance and not by purpose.
Most believe that having a feed formulation program is all you need to formulate feeds.
Thus, to explain that feed formulation is not magic but rather the outcome of study and experience, I have tried to outline below the whole process in six steps. This is done not to teach how to formulate, but rather to help understand the formulation process. The former requires a long interaction and relevant education. The latter (that is, understanding) is a must for all of us in order to discuss formulas with those who design or use them.