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How truck scales help control feed costs

Keith Sather for Progressive Dairyman Published on 30 June 2018
Truck on the scales

Ask any dairy producer what their number one expense is, and they’re likely to say, “feed.” The average 80-cow dairy farm spends more than $15,000 on feed each month and over $180,000 every year.

When trying to cut feed costs, where should you focus your energy? Trying to get a better deal on a particular feed ingredient isn’t likely to produce the results you’re looking for. For example, let’s say you convince your soybean meal supplier to come down $10 per ton. You would only save about three cents per cow per day.

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On the other hand, reducing shrink (feed wasted by wind, birds, rodents, spillage, spoilage, billing errors, etc.) by just 3 percent would result in a savings of 19 cents per cow per day. An 80-cow dairy would save $15.20 per day or $5,548 per year, whereas that same dairy stands to save less than $900 per year by negotiating a lower price for soybean meal.

Controlling your farm’s biggest expense begins with understanding how much feed is coming onto your dairy. This is where a truck scale can help. Without one, you’re oftentimes guessing about weights and relying on the person selling the feed to supply you with the correct weight.

But what if the seller made a mistake – or is possibly trying to cheat you? Wouldn’t it be nice to know for sure the amount of feed you’re paying for is what actually was delivered?

After recently installing a truck scale, one farm discovered their first load of incoming hay was off by a few thousand kilograms. The farmer called his supplier and explained the discrepancy between the provided weight and the weight from his truck scale. The seller said, “We’ve been having trouble with our scale; let’s go with your weight.”

A truck scale is like a checks and balances system, ensuring no one is shortchanged. The scale creates credible buyers and sellers, and makes for better neighbours, providing trustworthy numbers to back you up versus estimates that can turn relationships sour.

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Providing accurate weights of purchased and harvested feeds, a truck scale is a must-have for managing inventory and shrink. Guessing about inventory can put you in the predicament of running out of feed and having to make ration changes on short notice, which can hurt milk production and profitability.

Things to consider before installing a scale

Prior to purchasing a truck scale, try to imagine everything you’d ever possibly want to weigh on it. Some people start out thinking they’ll only weigh semis but, before long, they’re driving tractors with big duallies and other equipment over it and wishing they put the scale on a larger platform. Therefore, think big.

Location is another important factor. Consider a spot that provides easy access to forage bunkers, grain bins and commodity sheds to account for all incoming feeds. You may also want to think about a location that would be convenient for milk trucks to scale in and out.

Some dairies have begun using platform scales to record manure application, so a central location with open approach is critical to complete utilization. Consider the flow of traffic during harvest and the fact commodity delivery trucks will need to scale in and out.

Do you want a certified scale, or will noncertified serve your needs? If the scale is intended solely for internal use, such as determining how many tons of feed you’re producing each year, then a noncertified scale is probably adequate. Both certified and noncertified scales provide accurate weights.

The key difference is: A certified scale is certified legal for trade, meaning it’s the scale of choice when buying and selling feed. Disputes are always settled by a certified scale. It provides another layer of protection when conducting feed transactions, allowing everyone to rest comfortably knowing the numbers are right.

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A certified scale is as good as gold, standing up to any scale in the country. If the hay in the former example had not been weighed on a certified scale, the farmer wouldn’t have had a leg to stand on.

Eliminate errors with automated recording and tracking

Truck scales offer the most value when combined with a truck scale interface software system, which automatically records weights on incoming feeds. Gathering this critical information via pen and paper is a recipe for mass confusion where mistakes are common. What if the driver accidentally writes down the wrong weight? What if you can’t read his handwriting?

Or worse, what if the driver forgets to write down the weight? The truck scale interface removes human error, giving you complete confidence in recorded weights. It also saves you from sifting through stacks of paper to manually enter all of this information. Manual data entry elevates the potential for data flaws.

Producers often find the interface a valuable tool worth paying for, especially when compared to the cost of hiring someone to sit in a scale house and write down weights during harvest or feed delivery. A truck scale interface improves accuracy while saving time and labour.

Such an interface streamlines all feed transactions, arming you with powerful decision-making data to effectively manage inventory, shrink and more. It captures real-time inventory, such as the number of tons on a fed and dry matter basis, feed value, daily usage, number of days left in inventory and most recent shrink numbers.

It even tells you when to reorder to avoid running out of feed. Systems with reconciliation software provide the ability to manage contracts by vendor, helping ensure you only pay for actual feed delivered.

The truck scale interface can even open up new management opportunities in regard to harvesting and yields. Knowing exactly how much feed you’re producing and how much it costs to produce can help you proactively decide how much feed to harvest, buy, contract, etc.

Tracking how many tons of feed come across the scale each hour, certain systems provide extremely specific data, noting the exact time each load from each field was received down to every machine involved in its harvest. Some systems even provide a formula to ensure proper packing of the bunker to avoid mold and shrink.

The truck scale interface can also be beneficial from an agronomy standpoint. When equipped to record dry matter per ton per acre, the system can shed light on crop rotation and which seed varieties offer the best return. A producer can evaluate crop yields by field to learn, for example, how much alfalfa came off of field one. What was the percent dry matter? The value of feed from this field?

With margins as tight as they currently are, dairy producers need every advantage. Doing everything you can to reduce/manage feed costs can save your farm substantial money. After adding a truck scale interface to an existing scale, one dairy increased weight recording accuracy by nearly 4 percent. With $2.5 million worth of feed going across their scale each year, this farm has seen annual savings between $75,000 to $100,000, allowing them to recoup their investment in just one year.

Payoff by reducing feed shrink can occur faster when an owner of a truck scale/interface is adamant about using and managing the data it produces.  end mark

PHOTO: Scales can help cut costs and waste. Staff photo. 

Keith Sather
  • Keith Sather

  • Dairy Nutritionist/Owner
  • KS Dairy Consulting Inc.
  • Email Keith Sather

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