How big is the issue of forage shrink? Bigger than most producers realize, says Stan Moore of the Michigan State University Extension.
Forage losses alone are estimated to average 20% on U.S. farms, he says. And, it occurs in several different ways.
Research conducted by Mike Brouk of Kansas State University looked at numerous ways to quantify the cost of forage loss. One way to look at loss is in the cost of the silage that you are feeding.
For instance, if you were able to purchase corn silage at $55/ton delivered, but had a 20% shrink, that silage actually cost you around $65/ton for the amount the cows actually consumed.
Brouk, who based his study on a dairy farm, showed that reducing your feed shrink by 20% would provide 219 tons of extra feed or 11 extra acres, assuming 200 cows fed 30 lbs silage/day and a yield of 20 tons/acre.
Total savings on a 200-cow herd by reducing silage loss by 10% (at $55/ton) would be around $9,000 for a dairy that is currently at 25% loss and is reducing it to 15% loss, Moore pointed out.
According to MSU, four areas – harvest, packing, covering and feed-out – should be reviewed for ways to limit shrink.
Harvest losses, for example, can occur in the field due to wind, equipment maintenance, or operator error. Estimates of field loss have not been researched to any degree, but a 5% loss can easily occur, Moore says. Other harvest losses relate to the quality of the forages we harvest. If forages are not harvested at the proper moisture we will have difficulty packing, and fermentation quality will be affected.
Packing losses occur when producers don't achieve proper densities in silages because enough time isn't dedicated to packing or there's not enough weight on the vehicle being used to pack. "Insufficient packing allows more oxygen to remain in the pile resulting in poorer fermentation and heating losses," Moore advises.
Covering losses occur when the pile isn't covered, it's not properly covered, or an incorrect material is used. Excluding oxygen from silage and keeping rain from entering the pile affect the quality of the silage and the losses that occur.
Feed out losses occur in three main areas: Face management, amount of feed removed at one time, cover management.
In addition to these four areas, producers should also manage losses due to fly control, birds, and rodents, Moore says.
Look for part two in limiting forage shrink later this week.