Shrink is defined by Kansas State Extension Specialist Michael Brouk as the amount of feed delivered or grown on a farm that is never consumed. Brouk estimated that shrink may account for 5 to 30 percent of feed purchased. At the 2009 Western Dairy Management Conference he offered suggestions for reducing shrink and reining in feed costs.

Weighing every load of feed at delivery has become more common, particularly on larger operations. Brouk mentioned that although the investment in scales is significant, it has great potential to profit the farm. He cautioned that tare weights must be accurate, including mud on trucks, fuel weights, and the driver. Scale accuracy can also be an issue. All scales require calibration and maintenance, including those on the TMR mixer. Using the same scale for gross and tare weights is recommended. If you don’t have truck scales, consider using a set at a local business.

Wind can be a daily threat to feed losses. Of course, dry ingredients with small particle size and low density are most at risk. Dumping commodities on an apron, then pushing them into a bay can allow significant losses on windy days. Consider wind direction or windbreaks when planning commodity storage. Also, dry ingredients may be pelletized with other ingredients to reduce losses.

Birds can eat feed and create fecal contamination, which may reduce intake. Starlings eat an estimated 0.0625 pounds per bird each day, and they usually only eat concentrate. This is not only more expensive than forage, but if concentrates are eaten from the feedbunk, the remaining feed is no longer the intended ration. Facility design can limit birds’ access to bunks, and habitat and population management can help when access cannot be eliminated. Reducing feed availability during the day can help, as that is when birds feed most actively. Also, lowering water levels to at least 6 inches below the top of the waterer and maintaining water depth of at least 6 inches in the trough can discourage birds.

Damage caused by rodents may mainly be associated with waste and spoilage from holes chewed in bags or silage plastic. Weed control and fencing can help limit rodent populations around storage areas.

Wet tires can track a lot of feed around the farm. Bumps may cause unintended feed dumps. Consider the route and distance feed must be moved and consider a premix to reduce the number of trips and feed losses.

Tossing feed seems to be an activity cattle enjoy. Fly pressure and post-and-rail feed barriers tend to increase tossing behavior. Some studies estimate feed loss is reduced by 2 to 5 percent when cows have headlocks at the feed barrier.

Silage losses up to 30 percent have been observed on farms and can really eat into your profits. Reducing these losses requires harvesting at the correct moisture and particle length, rapid filling, adequate packing, immediate covering, and good management of feedout–matching the face size to feeding rate and keeping a clean, vertical face surface. Brouk believes 10 percent losses are achievable, and the best managers can get down to less than 5 percent.

Feed that heats in the bunk loses nutrient value and becomes less palatable. Silo face management, frequent feeding, and additives that limit secondary fermentation may help.

Loss of moisture from wet feeds changes the amount we need to feed. On-farm estimates of moisture loss suggest one percent of moisture can be lost each day for feed stored on a concrete pad. If wet ingredients cannot be delivered frequently, dry matter changes should be monitored so ration adjustments can be made. Also, silage bags could be considered for long-term storage.

Mixing errors may not truly be shrink losses, but they can be significant sources of wasted feed. Items fed at less than 5 pounds per head per day may need to be mixed with other ingredients to reduce errors.

The amount of each item added to the mixer should be as close as possible to the ration recipe, rather than using the last ingredient to bring the total mix weight up to the target.

The final source of shrink identified by Brouk was water. It can damage minerals and vitamins, enable mold growth, and add weight to feedstuffs that reduces the amount of dry matter fed, unless ration adjustments are made.

Source: Coleen Jones, Research Associate, Department of Dairy and Animal Science, Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences