Skip to content

Winning Against Waste: Your Essential Guide to a Feed Shrink Tracking Program

Table of content
All posts

In the world of dairy farming, achieving optimal efficiency is the key to profitability and sustainability. Every process, every resource, and every aspect of the operation must be carefully managed to ensure the best results. One crucial area that often gets talked about is feed shrink. While some aspects of it may seem insignificant on the surface, feed shrink can have a substantial impact on a farm’s bottom line. But what is feed shrink, and how can dairy farmers work to reduce it? In this blog, we delve into these questions and explore practical strategies to mitigate feed shrink.

What is feed shrink on a dairy farm?

Simply put, feed shrink refers to the loss of feed from the time it is delivered to the farm until it is consumed by the cows. It might seem like an unavoidable part of dairy farming, but in reality, a significant proportion of feed shrink can be prevented with appropriate management strategies.

Feed shrink can occur due to various reasons, and each cause of loss can either directly or indirectly impact the overall productivity of a dairy farm. Factors like:

  • spoilage due to poor storage,
  • loss during handling and feeding,
  • consumption by pests or wildlife,
  • and even weather elements can contribute to feed shrink.

It's essential to understand that feed shrink not only represents a loss of physical feed but also a potential decline in the nutritional value of the remaining feed. This can directly affect the health and productivity of your herd, leading to lower milk production. Thus, addressing feed shrink is about more than just preventing feed waste; it's about optimizing the nutrition your cows receive to support their health and milk production.

In our subsequent sections, we'll delve deeper into the causes of feed shrink and explore strategies to prevent and mitigate these losses, maximizing the productivity of your dairy farming operation.

Where does feed shrink occur on a dairy farm?

Understanding where and how feed shrink can occur is the first step in addressing the issue. In this section, we will discuss the various stages of feed handling and storage, highlighting both the unavoidable losses and those that can be mitigated with effective management strategies.

Natural Losses

A certain degree of feed shrink, known as natural losses, is an inherent part of farming. These losses can occur at any stage of the feed process.

  1. Field Losses: Some loss can occur during harvesting due to mechanical inefficiencies or errors. Some crop material may be left in the field, especially if harvesting occurs too rapidly or the equipment isn't properly adjusted.
  2. Fermentation and Ensiling Losses: During the ensiling process, some dry matter is lost as the plant sugars are fermented to produce lactic acid, which preserves the silage. This loss is necessary for good silage preservation, but improper ensiling can lead to excessive losses. For example, if the silage isn't adequately compacted, oxygen can remain in the silage mass, leading to poor fermentation and higher losses.
  3. Storage Losses: Even with proper sealing, some losses can occur over time due to slow aerobic decay or microbial activity. These losses are usually minor if the silage is well-managed, but they can be significant if the silage is exposed to air or water, or if spoilage organisms proliferate.
  4. Feedout Losses: When silage is removed for feeding, it's exposed to air, which can lead to aerobic spoilage if not managed correctly. This can be minimized by removing silage in a way that limits the exposure of the remaining silage to air.

The total shrink from field to feed bunk can range widely depending on many factors, but generally, it might range from about 10-20%. However, with good management practices, you can monitor losses and take steps to minimize them whenever it's possible to keep losses towards the lower end of this range.

Preventable Losses

While natural losses are a part of the process, a significant proportion of feed shrink occurs due to poor management practices. Here are some of the key areas where such losses can occur:

  • Improper Storage: If silage isn't stored correctly, it can quickly spoil. This can be due to inadequate sealing, allowing air or water to enter, or poor maintenance, leading to the growth of spoilage organisms.
  • Inefficient Handling and Feeding: Feed can be wasted during the handling process due to spills or equipment inefficiencies. Overfeeding or uneven distribution can also contribute to wastage as leftover feed is discarded.
  • Pests and Wildlife: If adequate pest control measures are not in place, feed can be lost to pests such as rats, birds, or even larger wildlife.

By addressing these areas, dairy farmers can significantly reduce the proportion of feed shrink on their farms. In the next section, we will discuss practical strategies for improving feed management to minimize shrink and optimize dairy farm profitability.

Why should I manage shrink?

When we talk about managing feed shrink, we're not just talking about preventing physical loss of feed, we're talking about protecting the financial health of your farming operation. Every pound of feed lost to shrink is a pound you've paid for but can't use - and those losses can quickly add up to significant costs.

On average, dairies that aren’t practicing efficient shrink management experience between 7-8% shrink. 7-8% doesn’t initially sound like much, so let’s put this number into perspective:

If a farmer missed the bottom of the market on an ingredient and instead of buying it for $550/ton he bought it for $570/ton he would experience an annual loss of about $10,950 (on 1,000 cows). If that same farmer had 7% shrink he would experience an annual loss of about $21,845 on the same ingredient. That’s more than double the loss that he is already taking by missing the bottom of the market. And that’s just one ingredient.

For another example, let's say a dairy farm spends $500,000 on feed every month, and they're experiencing an average shrink rate of 10%. That means $50,000 worth of feed is being lost each month, representing a sizable dent in the farm's profitability.

By investing time and resources into shrink management practices and technologies, the farm could potentially reduce its shrink rate to 3%, and in this example recoup more than 4.2 million dollars each year! Over several years, the savings may be substantial enough to offset the initial investment, leading to increased net profitability in the long run.

Moreover, these figures only represent the direct costs of feed shrink. When you consider the indirect costs - such as decreased milk production due to inconsistent or suboptimal feeding - the total cost of shrink can be even higher.

It's also worth noting that managing shrink in terms of dollars can provide valuable insights for strategic decision-making. By understanding the cost of shrink for different types of feed or different storage methods, farmers can make more informed choices about which feeds to purchase and how to store them to maximize cost-efficiency.

Using Feed Management Software to Track and Understand Natural Losses

EZFeed feed management software and EZweights commodity tracking software are innovative tools that can assist dairy farmers in understanding, tracking, and even predicting the natural losses associated with feed shrink.

This software suite serves as a complete, integrated system for tracking the journey of feed from the field to the cows. It starts with EZweights, which enables you to accurately record the quantity of harvested feed. Subsequently, EZfeed steps in to meticulously monitor the condition of the feed, including tracking its dry matter, throughout its storage period, while also keeping a record of the amount consumed by the herd. By offering these features, it empowers farmers to understand and control natural and preventable losses that occur at each stage.

This level of precise data can be invaluable in predicting patterns of natural shrinkage over time. By comparing the harvested amount with the actual amount available for feeding after a given period, farmers can develop a reliable estimate of expected losses for each crop.

Leveraging Feed Shrink Data for Financial Discussions

As a side note to natural losses, feed shrink data obtained through feed management software can serve as critical evidence when discussing finances with banks and accountants. It's important to remember that those not familiar with dairy farming might assume that the amount of feed harvested should be equal to the amount fed to the cows. However, as we've discussed, this is rarely the case due to natural shrinkage.

By using feed management software, farmers can provide documented evidence of natural losses, demonstrating that these are legitimate and unavoidable costs of dairy farming. This clarity can facilitate more accurate financial planning and forecasting, assist in securing loans, and support discussions with financial advisors or accountants.

5 Practical Strategies to Minimize Preventable Losses in Feed Shrink

While natural losses are an inevitable part of farming, many of the causes of feed shrink are preventable with careful management and the right tools. Implementing a comprehensive strategy to reduce these losses can significantly increase the cost-efficiency of a dairy farm.

1. Use Feed Management Software for Precision Feeding

One critical strategy in effective feed management is precision feeding, a practice that ensures each cow receives the precise amount of nutrients necessary to support its health and productivity. This approach typically involves creating a Total Mixed Ration (TMR), which requires blending several feed ingredients in the correct proportions to achieve the desired nutritional balance. The necessity of such precise measurements is where EZfeed software truly shines.

The software can help your employees add the correct amount of ingredients to the ration by providing them with clear and easy-to-follow steps. Any changes in the diet can be instantly updated in the software, ensuring everyone is working with the most recent information. The software can also monitor and record the actual weights of the ingredients and the amount of time it took for each ingredient to be added to each ration, allowing managers to verify that the ration is being correctly prepared.

Additionally, feed management software can guide the distribution of the ration across pens, ensuring each group of cows gets the correct amount of feed. This reduces the chance of overfeeding or underfeeding, both of which can contribute to feed shrink.

2. Inventory Management

EZfeed and EZweights software can also aid with inventory management. It allows you to record the amount of each feed ingredient received, track its usage over time, and assess the dry matter content of the feed. Dry matter represents the portion of the feed that isn't water and includes the essential nutrients.

As the dry matter content can vary between batches and over time, tracking it is crucial for accurate ration formulation. By allowing you to track and update the dry matter content of specific feed ingredients, the software ensures you're formulating rations based on the current nutritional value of the feed, not just the volume.

The software's inventory management features also provide a real-time overview of your remaining feed inventory, enabling better planning and ordering of feed supplies. It can help identify any discrepancies that could indicate problems like feed wastage or theft.

3. Staff Training and Management

While technology plays a significant role, human factors are equally crucial. Regular training of staff on software and processes can help reduce losses due to handling errors or overfeeding. We use and make available a Learning Management System (LMS) called Bridge to our customers which is incredibly useful for this purpose.

Bridge allows you to provide training on our software tools for your employees. With a user-friendly interface and interactive modules, your staff can learn how to use the software effectively and at their own pace. They can revisit the content whenever needed, ensuring they're always up-to-date with their knowledge.

But Bridge's capabilities extend beyond software training. You can use it to upload your own training materials, allowing you to standardize and certify your employees on the specific processes of your operation. This ensures everyone is on the same page about best practices for feed storage, handling, and feeding, further reducing the chances of preventable feed shrink.

In addition, feed management software can help managers monitor staff performance, ensuring that best practices are being followed. Reports can help notify managers of any deviations from standard procedures, allowing for corrective training when necessary.

4. Improving Storage Practices

Proper storage of feed is a critical factor in reducing feed shrink. Here are some strategies to improve your storage practices:

  1. Harvest at the Right Moisture Level: Ensuring crops are harvested at the correct moisture content can significantly improve the quality of the silage, reducing losses due to spoilage.
  2. Proper Sealing: Once the silage is packed into storage, it's essential to seal it properly to prevent exposure to air and water, which can lead to spoilage. Consider using oxygen-barrier films and ensuring they are well weighted down.
  3. Regular Maintenance and Monitoring: Regularly inspect your storage structures for any signs of damage or deterioration that could let in air or water. Promptly repair any issues to maintain the integrity of the storage.
  4. Manage Feedout Well: When removing feed from storage, minimize the exposure of the remaining feed to air. This can be achieved by removing a certain thickness from the entire face of the pile or bunker each day.

5. Controlling Pests and Wildlife

Controlling pests and wildlife is another important aspect of preventing feed shrink. Here are some strategies to consider:

  1. Secure Storage: Ensure your storage areas are secure and not easily accessible to pests and wildlife. This might involve an indoor feed center or securing the perimeter of your feed storage area.
  2. Pest Control Measures: Implement regular pest control measures. This could involve using safe and approved pesticides or traps for smaller pests and deterrents for larger wildlife.
  3. Cleanliness: Regularly clean the feed storage and preparation areas. Leftover feed can attract pests, so ensure all spills are promptly cleaned up.
  4. Professional Help: If the pest or wildlife issue is severe, it may be worth getting professional pest control or wildlife management services involved. They can provide effective solutions and advice tailored to your specific situation.

Remember, every farm is unique, and the strategies that work best may vary depending on your specific conditions and challenges. Regular monitoring and evaluation of your strategies can help you continuously improve your practices, reducing feed shrink and enhancing the overall efficiency of your dairy farm.

How to Get Started Managing Your Shrink

When beginning shrink management it’s important to come up with some essential questions to create a baseline for your management program. Here are several examples – pick the ones that are most pertinent to your operation.

  1. Where is shrinkage occurring? Identify the stages of the feed process where significant losses occur. This could include during harvest, storage, feed mixing, or delivery.
  2. What are the primary causes of shrink on my farm? Identify the factors contributing to shrink. These could include moisture levels at harvest, improper storage, handling errors, pests, or overfeeding.
  3. What practices can I improve or implement to reduce shrink? Consider the strategies discussed earlier, such as improving storage practices, implementing pest control measures, using precision feeding techniques, and providing staff training.
  4. What technology can assist in managing shrink? Evaluate the potential benefits of using feed management software or other technologies to track and reduce shrink.
  5. What is the cost of shrink in terms of dollars? Understand the financial impact of shrink on your operation. This can help prioritize your efforts and justify investments in shrink-reducing measures.
  6. Who will be responsible for the shrink management program? Assign a person or a team to be accountable for implementing and monitoring the program.
  7. How will I measure the success of my shrink management program? Decide on the metrics you will use to evaluate your program's effectiveness. This could include reduced shrink rates, financial savings, improved feed efficiency, or enhanced milk production.
  8. What training and resources do my staff need to help manage shrink? Consider the role of your employees in managing shrink and how you can support them. This could involve providing training through a Learning Management System like Bridge.
  9. How often will I review and adjust my shrink management program? Set a schedule for regular reviews of your program, allowing you to make necessary adjustments based on your progress and any changing circumstances.

If you find yourself unable to answer any of the above questions, it's a signal to start capturing more comprehensive data in your feed management software. Remember, the extent of your data directly influences your ability to pose meaningful questions and glean valuable insights in the future. By diligently recording detailed information now, you equip yourself with the tools to answer crucial operational questions down the line.

Team Commitment: The Cornerstone of Shrink Management

When it comes to successfully managing and reducing shrink on a dairy farm, one crucial factor stands out above all others: team commitment. The collective efforts of every individual on the farm - from managers to feed handlers to milkers - can make a significant difference in reducing feed shrink.

Creating a Culture of Responsibility

It's not just about implementing the right technology or following best practices; it's about creating a culture of responsibility and continuous improvement where everyone understands their role in minimizing shrink.

Effective Communication and Collaboration

Managers can start by communicating the importance of shrink management to the entire team, explaining how it affects the farm's financial health and the cows' productivity. Highlight that each team member plays a vital role in this effort, whether it's by following correct feed handling procedures, ensuring accurate feed measurements, or promptly reporting any potential issues like pests or spoilage.

Next, invite your team to participate in defining the steps everyone can take to reduce shrink. Open discussions like this not only generate valuable ideas but also foster a sense of ownership among team members.

Education and Recognition

Another powerful tool is ongoing education. Utilize platforms like our Learning Management System to provide regular training on feed management best practices and the use of your feed management software. Reinforce this training with regular feedback and recognition for improvements and achievements. We also put on an annual conference which can provide your employees with some focused time receive additional training on the software they use every day.

Conclusion: Turning the Tides on Feed Shrink

Feed shrink, a seemingly invisible problem on dairy farms, can quietly erode a farm's profitability, undermine productivity, and disrupt the overall operational efficiency. However, with conscious efforts and a systematic approach, it is a challenge that can be effectively tackled.

A successful shrink management program begins with understanding the problem: where it occurs, why it occurs, and how it impacts the farm in terms of feed efficiency and financial health. It requires commitment not just from the farm owner or manager, but from the entire team. Everyone has a part to play in this effort, from accurately measuring feed to maintaining storage facilities.

Technology, such as feed management software, plays a vital role in this fight against shrink, providing the data and insights necessary for effective decision-making. Combined with ongoing education through platforms like Bridge Learning Management System, it empowers farmers and their teams with knowledge and resources to minimize shrink.

The fight against feed shrink is not a one-time battle but an ongoing commitment. It is about creating a culture of continuous improvement, where everyone is always looking for better ways to preserve feed and maximize its use.

In the end, managing feed shrink is not just about saving feed; it's about increasing profitability, ensuring animal health, and contributing to a sustainable future for dairy farming. Remember, every pound of feed saved is a step towards a more profitable and sustainable dairy operation.

Note: This article was originally published in 2018 and has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness to provide the most current insights into Shrink and its role in modern dairy farming.