Feed formulator's memory dilemma

Feed formulator's memory dilemma

It's hard to remember every little detail of why one feed formula, among all feed formulas, is the way it is. Add in multiple nutritionists, salespeople, customers, formulators and

*Dr. John Foley is global portfolio manager for Feed Management Systems focusing on feed formulation, ration formulation and related software solutions that enhance ingredient evaluation (including nutrient measurement) and the flow of essential nutrition and pricing data in the animal nutrition industries. Foley can be reached at [email protected].

HERE'S a common thought that might run through a feed formulator's mind: "Now, why did I/he/she/we/they put a minimum constraint of 10% cracked corn in this formula specification, lo, so many months ago? It's costing us $2 a ton!"

Okay, maybe people don't say "lo" anymore, but the point is that with the passage of time, memories fade.

It could be that the marketing or sales team determined that the marketplace expected the pellet to show plenty of corn. Perhaps it was because a customer demanded a minimum level of corn in a custom feed. Or, maybe it was just one person's approach to solving an animal performance problem at the time: More corn!

Let's go to the notes for this formula to see why cracked corn was forced into this feed. You do have accurate, historical notes, don't you?

Albert Einstein said, "Memory is deceptive because it is colored by today's events."

Within the everyday hustle-and-bustle of the feed business, Einstein was right. It's hard to remember every little detail of why one feed formula, among all feed formulas, is the way it is.

Add in the I/he/she/we/they factor of multiple nutritionists, salespeople, customers, formulators and others who have influenced a formula specification, and things get even more complicated.

It's hard enough to remember what you did, much less what he/she/we/they said and did. It's best to have reference notes.

The importance of notes for feed formulas really struck home for me when a nutritionist for a feed formulation software customer told me that the one feature he would like most in the next software release was an expanded notes section. He said he could name eight more nutritionists who would agree. Message received!

The expanded notes section was included in the next release, and I started thinking a little more deeply about the importance and structure of feed formula notes as both a memory aid and historical record of why costly formula constraints exist.

Memory is all about two steps: storage and retrieval. Whether we are attempting to use the memory capacity of our brain or the utility of a stored note, it's important to structure information to facilitate both its storage and retrieval.

Here are my ideas on some categories under which to organize notes about feed formulas:

* Ingredient constraints:

- Include/exclude (ingredients that can, must or cannot be included).

- Concentrations (minimums, maximums and absolutes).

- Time (opportunity ingredients, drugs or additives intended to be fed for a limited period of time).

* Nutrient constraints (minimums, maximums and absolutes).

* Cost constraints (to fit the market or customer).

* Physical appearance requirements (color, texture, etc.).

* Customer/consultant requirements.

* Key information sources (account manager, nutritionist and others who know the market, customer and product requirements).

* Customer service issues (customer sensitivities, incidents, preferences).

* Market segment requirements (cost, appearance, etc.).

* Competitive issues (key factors of product positioning versus competition).

* Animal performance concerns/issues/requirements.

* Species (if not obvious from the product name, code or customer name).

* Exceptions from base formula (why and how a spec varies from a base formula).

A simple definition of a note is "a brief writing intended to assist the memory." In that spirit, you can probably think of some useful abbreviations for the categories above (like "ingr." for ingredient, "nutr." for nutrient and "phys." for physical) that will help to keep the note brief. Then, there are the abbreviations that are useful in all note-taking (Table).

Finally, here are a few guidelines that you probably learned when you were taking notes in school and still use in business meetings:

* Include the main points — not absolutely everything.

* Use key words and short phrases rather than long sentences.

* Accuracy is important — is the meaning clear?

* Establish a uniform system of punctuation and abbreviations.

* Review the notes periodically — perhaps every time you formulate those feeds that aren't reformulated very often.

Georges Duhamel said, "Do not trust your memory; it is a net full of holes; the most beautiful prizes slip through it."

So, here's a challenge for you: Enlist your I/he/she/we/they formula-influencing team to capture notes on all feed formulas in a structured, organized fashion. It will have a positive impact on knowledge retention, team efficiency and customer service.


Useful abbreviations for note-taking



No. or #



Equal to or same as





Greater than

Less than


Versus or as opposed to


For example






Volume:85 Issue:31

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.