Mathematical models can be used to improve performance, reduce cost of production, and reduce nutrient excretion by accounting for more of the variation in predicting requirements and feed utilization in each unique production situation. Mathematical models can be classified into five or more categories based on their nature and behavior. Determining the appropriate level of aggregation of equations is a major problem in formulating models. The most critical step is to describe the purpose of the model and then to determine the appropriate mix of empirical and mechanistic representations of physiological functions, given development and evaluation dataset availability, inputs typically available and the benefits versus the risks of use associated with increased sensitivity. We discussed five major feeding systems used around the world. They share common concepts of energy and nutrient requirement and supply by feeds, but differ in structure and application of the concepts. Animal models are used for a variety of purposes, including the simple description of observations, prediction of responses to management, and explanation of biological mechanisms. Depending upon the objectives, a number of different approaches may be used, including classical algebraic equations, predictive empirical relationships, and dynamic, mechanistic models. The latter offer the best opportunity to make full use of the growing body of knowledge regarding animal biology. Continuing development of these types of models and computer technology and software for their implementation holds great promise for improvements in the effectiveness with which fundamental knowledge of animal function can be applied to improve animal agriculture and reduce its impact on the environment.