The Importance of Measuring Shrink

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.

Shrink Cost

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.

Why is Dairy Feed Tracking Important?

Why is Dairy Feed Tracking Important?

Along with land, cattle, and machinery, feed is one of the largest assets on a dairy farm. Just like Drucker’s popular quote, how can we expect to efficiently manage such a large asset without accurate and up to date inventories?

You can compare feed bunks to bank accounts. Just as a farm needs to know how much money is in their accounts so they can plan for the expenses of an upcoming year, a prudent farm also needs to know how much feed they have in their “accounts”.

One way to improve overall farm profitability is to maximize the use of home grown forages. Accurate inventory data allows for more certain decision making when it comes to balancing the amount of feed in the bunks with the number of animals that will need to be fed. This could lead to a reduction in the amount of purchased feed, or can at least allow some planning for required purchases. The earlier a potential issue can be identified (ex: running out of a certain feed early), the more time there is to shop around and purchase the most economical replacement available. Identifying issues like this before they pop up, can turn them from an “emergency” into a planned-out management decision. This flexibility allows the ability to make decisions based on current/future pricing instead of being forced into “emergency” purchases.

On a dairy farm where crops are mainly grown to feed cows and youngstock, knowing what’s in the bunks is also vital to optimizing the cropping plan.  Crop rotations and seed/fertilizer purchases are all reliant on knowing how much feed will be needed. Knowing both quantity and quality of what’s in the bunks should be a key factor when deciding how many acres will get planted to what.

If we look at the bank account analogy again, it would be foolish to go an entire year only checking the balance of operating accounts only once or twice a year. With most bank accounts today, we can log on daily and get complete account details or at least get statements in the mail every month. With withdrawals being made from our feed bunk “accounts” daily, shouldn’t a manager at least have access to monthly “account statements”?

Consistent inventory data tracked throughout the year can allow for additional management opportunities. Shrink, including dry matter losses due to fermentation and feedout can be followed and reviewed. With inventory data being recorded more than once per year, there will be less “surprises”. A “surprise” could be running out of a feed too early or not emptying a bunk in time for it to be refilled with the next harvest or cutting. Knowing exactly when bunks will be empty is the key to less surprises.

Forages are extremely valuable and have a major impact on the profitability of dairy farms. A high level of knowledge, science, and technology goes into ration formulation. Nutritionists and farm managers need real-time, accurate inventory data.

Look for future blog posts on topics such as safety, shrink, density, and other topics.

-Aurox Team