The Importance of Measuring Shrink
Forage shrink on a dairy can be defined as any loss or reduction between the amount of a forage harvested and the amount of that forage that is fed out.
It’s estimated that in general, farms experience between 5-20% shrink. This could even be upwards of 30% or more in some situations. With low milk prices and poor margins, reducing the amount of shrink occurring can lead to improved farm profitability.
On a typical dairy farm, around 50% of the total farm costs can be attributed to feed. Shrink can represent 15%-20% of total feed costs on a farm (Brouk, Kansas State). This means that shrink alone can amount to 10% of total farm costs. That is a significant number. The table below highlights the negative economic impact forage shrink can have on a dairy.
There are numerous inputs that affect the amount of shrink that occurs. Some of these occur during harvest (moisture content, use of inoculants), some during ensiling (packing techniques, bunk covering method/material), and others during feedout (defacing technique, spoilage, feeder accuracy).
With farms experiencing more competition for land (less availability and higher prices to rent or buy), reducing shrink can also be an opportunity to feed more cows/make more milk with the same or less land. Cropping is often evaluated based on tons harvested per acre. Perhaps dairy cropping operations should be evaluated based on tons of home-grown forage fed per acre. This metric would incorporate efficiency not only during the growing season and harvest, but also through storage and feedout. Essentially this would represent the efficiency of the operation from field to feed bunk.
As competition grows and margins remain tight, efficiency in all areas will continue to be vital for dairy farm business sustainability and survival. With accurate shrink estimations, farms can witness how much shrink is occurring on their operation. Putting a value to the specific amount of feed being lost would assist in making informed management decisions.