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Don’t let feed shrinkage impact your bottom line

Kristin Thompson for Progressive Dairy Published on 04 April 2022

When evaluating the influencers of profitability on dairy farms, the cost of feed is typically at the top of the list for large expenditures. However, when evaluating feed costs, it is important to not overlook feed losses, which are often termed “shrink.”

This can be described as the portion of feed purchased or harvested but not fed to the animals. In other words, this is the percentage of feed that has cost you money without being consumed by the animal, improving your farm performance or increasing profitability. The amount of feed shrinkage is going to vary depending on the farm, with the typical range being 5% to 15% of total feed. However, it can be much higher if not properly managed.

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To monitor feed shrinkage on your operation, you need to be able to calculate the difference between what is harvested and/or purchased and what is physically delivered to the cows. For example, if you receive a 10-tonne load of purchased supplement and feed it at a rate of 4 kilograms per head per day to 80 cows, that load of feed should last you approximately 31 days. However, if the feed is only lasting 28 days, you are looking at a feed shrinkage of 10%. When evaluated on a financial basis, and assuming feed cost per cow per day for the purchased supplement is $2.40, you are looking at a feed shrink cost of up to 24 cents per cow per day. Over a one-year period, this adds up to a loss of $87.60 per cow per year or $7,008 annually for 80 cows. Remember, this loss is from the purchased supplement alone and does not account for any shrink from other feed ingredients included in the daily diet.

The source of feed shrinkage will vary and can be the result of multiple factors such as pests, weather conditions like wind or rain, poor storage, undesired fermentation, feed refusals and inaccurate scales. Although some feed shrinkage is unavoidable, it is important to recognize areas of potential loss and take steps to minimize it:

1. Harvest conditions and equipment performance will impact feed losses in the field. Equipment failure can lead to losses by leaving forage in the field or result in the improper loading of silage wagons from the chopper. Along with making sure equipment is ready for harvest season, ensuring you are harvesting at the correct moisture can further help prevent dry matter losses. If forage is not harvested at the correct moisture, this will cause undesired fermentation (too wet) or packing difficulties (too dry) during storage, leading to reduced feed quality and quantity.

2. Ensure silage is properly packed and covered to reduce storage-associated losses along with preventing damage from birds and rodents. Air removal favours anaerobic fermentation and conservation to help avoid dry matter and nutrient losses caused by undesired fermentation (i.e., yeast or clostridia) or effluent leaching.

3. Manage the face of ensiled forages stored in bunkers or silage bags to minimize losses during feedout. Remember, the key is limiting exposure to oxygen, which can be as simple as using a facer to ensure a smooth face on the silage.

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4. Evaluate storage and loading locations of commodities and purchased supplements or rations. Significant losses occur when feeds are stored in commodity sheds or bins affected by wind or rain. Ensure your bins, storage containers and augers are kept clean and properly ventilated.

5. TMR mixer audits are essential to ensure mixers are in good working order. Any variance in the scale of the mixer has a significant impact on the ration fed. If the scales are incorrect and you end up feeding more ensiled forages, it will significantly affect your inventory and lead to feed shortages. Similarly, it is important to establish a scheduled maintenance plan for TMR mixers and closely monitor mix volumes and mixing times.

6. Feedbunk management is the last frontier for preventing feed shrinkage. Maintaining appropriate feed push-ups helps ensure the cows are consuming the feed that has been delivered, which in turn promotes milk production. The amount of leftover feed needs to be monitored, with the typical recommendation being 2% to 3% weighback.

7. Regularly monitor the dry matter of forages to prevent overfeeding, refusals and feed losses at the bunk.

Remember, it is important to manage and control feed shrinkage in all stages of the feed production cycle, from harvest to storage and from purchase to the feedbunk. There are multiple strategies and recommendations that can be employed to control feed shrinkage, protect your inventories and increase the performance and profitability of your operation. end mark

Kristin Thompson
  • Kristin Thompson

  • Ruminant Nutritionist
  • New-Life Mills

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