Shrink the shrink: Feed handling and storage

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Felix D. Soriano, MS, PAS, is owner/consultant with APN Consulting. Even as feed prices decline, there’s money to be saved by managing on-farm inventories and limiting shrink losses.

Many dairy farmers try to cut feed costs without realizing how much money is wasted once the feed, protein mix or commodity shows up at the farm. Furthermore, lack of focus on proper silage management affects feed losses and adds even more to ration costs.

For example, current feed costs can run $7-$8 or more per cow per day. For a 1,000-cow herd, this represents about $210,000/month for the lactating cows alone. Poor storage facilities and feeding management, and lack of feeding consistency, can create a 10%-15% feed shrink loss, representing more than $31,000/month, or over $380,000/year.

Determining the true cost of a feeding program starts with tracking feed inventories. If you’re unable to measure losses, you can’t identify areas where the feeding program can be improved.

Although eliminating feed losses completely is not possible, both the farmer and feeder must focus on controlling and minimizing those losses. A well-planned feeding management system must be in place, and well-trained feeders must execute those plans.

Key control points

There are three main areas where the farmer, feeder and nutritionist should focus on to better manage feed inventories and minimize feed losses. They include:

 

  1. Feed handling and storage
  2. Mixing and feeding process
  3. Feed bunk management

 

Reducing feed losses by improving management practices during handling and storage can have a substantial economic impact.

Proper handling begins by having a consistent routine when receiving forages and feed ingredients arrive at the dairy. I often see feed trucks making deliveries without anyone from the farm on site. Receiving includes not only overseeing feed placement and checking the invoice, but also verifying weights, and inspecting and sampling the feed. This will ensure both feed quality and safety, and give more accurate information on inventory control.

Collect samples of every load of feed or ingredient received, storing them for a reasonable period of time, depending on the ingredient and when it is used.

A scale to weigh all feed ingredients can be a valuable long-term investment, allowing you to verify receiving weights and address load discrepancies. It will also give you more accurate information to adjust inventory records and control shrink losses.

A similar process should be established for any silage and other forages grown and harvested at the farm.

Several factors related to storage facilities and feed and commodity handling impact shrink losses. These are typically related to weather, especially when using open commodity sheds, as well as the presence of rodents and birds. Attention to cleanliness and feed area organization are critical.

Impact of different storage designs. Much has been written about the advantages of storing ingredients in upright bins compared to open-sided commodity sheds, but flat storage systems are usually preferred for high inclusion-rate ingredients. Also, flat commodity bays are usually recommended for protein mixes with high levels of liquid fat or molasses.

However, other ingredients or feeds should be kept in upright bins, typically limiting shrink losses to 1%-2%, compared to 5%-15% with open-sided commodity bays.

Silage storage and extraction. Proper silage confection and face management reduce shrink losses. Silage extraction and face management training is critical. Also, weighing what goes in and out of each silage bunk or pile is the most accurate way of keeping good feed inventory. 

Stay tuned for more "Shrink the shrink"


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