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Feed shrinkage control vital for dairy farmers

Feed shrinkage control vital for dairy farmers
With escalating feed prices, feed is eating up what otherwise could be pretty good milk prices. Now more than ever, controlling shrinkage is imperative.

On most dairies, feed costs will represent the largest single expense.

With escalating feed prices, feed is eating up what otherwise could be pretty good milk prices. Now more than ever, controlling shrinkage is imperative.

What is shrinkage? It simply is defined as the amount of feed delivered or raised on the farm that is not consumed by the cattle for which it was intended.

If you don’t measure the shrinkage, you can’t manage it. And the larger the dairy, the more important this factor is.

Perhaps the single most important advance in this area has been the adoption of on-farm scales for incoming trucks and feed-mixing equipment. Also, significant advances have been made in the last decade in computer software to help producers track feed-mixing operations and changes in inventory.

(For more, see: Dairy farmers face hard times in Louisiana)

Feed shrinkage is caused by many factors, including delivery weight errors, wind, birds, rodents, tires, tracked feed, cattle tossing feed, silage bunker losses, feed refusals, bunk heating and spoilage, moisture losses, mixing errors, scale accuracy, push-up blades, comingling of ingredients, feed wasted by feeders and drives, silage fermentation, feed bunk management, plastic management, moving/storing feed and water damage.

What is typical? You always are going to have some shrinkage, but the goal should be to minimize it. For example, in a recent study shared by an Arizona dairy, the staff measured the following shrinkage during a 60-day period: mill-run feed of more than 16 percent, dry distillers grain of more than 9 percent, commercial soybean meal product of more than 9 percent, alfalfa hay of more than 7 percent and corn silage of more than 16 percent.

The nutrition consultant for this dairy helped it reach a goal of only 5 percent shrinkage. The value of all feed saved at 5 percent was nearly $175,000 per year, based on 2012 feed prices, compared with the 12 percent, or nearly $420,000, of lost feed the previous year. That means the dairy loses $245,000 if it does not put the effort into reducing shrinkage. These losses occurred on a 1,000-cow dairy and included the cost of the feed for the milking herd, dry cows and heifers, but not the calves.

Shrinkage comes in many forms, and many factors result in feed waste. Feed shrink can represent from 5 to 15 percent of the total feed cost on the dairy, and wet, as well as the more expensive, ingredients represent the greatest concern for farm managers.

High feed costs and low milk prices increase the importance of reducing the overall feed cost. Lowering feed shrinkage is an economic opportunity for nearly all dairies of any size.

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