Editor's note: Courtesy of an article by J. W. Schroeder, extension dairy specialist at North Dakota State University.

Feed shrinkage is caused by many factors. You are always going to have some shrinkage. Of course, the goal should be to minimize it.

The potential impact of feed efficiency on the economic performance of the dairy enterprise is undeniable.

An improvement in feed efficiency for the milking herd can result in three possible scenarios: 1) an increase in milk yield with no change in feed intake, 2) a decrease in dry-matter intake (DMI) with no change in milk yield or 3) a slight increase in milk yield with a slight decrease in feed intake.

One simple way to improve feed efficiency is to employ good bunk management.

Feeding behavior of group-housed dairy cows is influenced by management practices at the feed bunk and factors associated the environment. The feeding pattern of group-housed dairy cows is largely influenced by the timing of fresh feed delivery. The delivery of fresh feed has a greater impact on stimulating cows to eat than does the return from milking. Delivering fresh feed more frequently improves access to fresh feed for all cows and reduces sorting of the total mixed ration. This potentially will reduce variation in diet quality consumed by cows, with benefits for milk production.

Lowering feed shrinkage is an economic opportunity for nearly all dairies of any size. Shrinkage comes in many forms, and many factors result in feed waste. Feed shrink can represent from 5 to 15 percent of the total feed cost on the dairy, and wet, as well as the more expensive, ingredients represent the greatest concern for farm managers.

The basics of feed bunk management are: Provide the right feed to the right cows at the right time in the right place at the right price.