Shrink, or the loss of feed ingredients, is a costly problem that should not be ignored. Some estimates suggest it represents 15 to 20 percent of total feed cost on a dairy. Wet and expensive feed ingredients represent the greatest concern.

Unfortunately, there is limited research data on the extent or cost of feed shrink on dairy heifer operations. However, considering shrink a “non-issue” or just part of doing business limits opportunities for improvement, says Joe Harner, agricultural engineer at Kansas State University.

Generally, shrink includes not only storage losses but also excessive ration ingredient inclusion rates. Some causes of shrink include:

  • Wind
  • Wildlife, birds and rodents
  • Moisture
  • Spoilage
  • Delivery weight errors
  • Discarded feed
  • Feed dispersed by tires and tracking
  • Mixing errors

Recently, Harner and colleague Mike Brouk, Kansas State University extension dairy specialist, put some numbers on the cost of shrink. They determined the cost of a corn silage/corn stover-based heifer ration equaled $1.37 per head per day, assuming zero shrinkage. Daily feed cost increased to $1.54 per head when typical shrink values were applied to each feed ingredient in the diet.

“If shrink losses were reduced by 50 percent for each ingredient, daily feed costs were reduced to $1.46 per head,” they say. “The difference in daily feed cost of $0.17 per head due to reduced shrink results in an annual savings of $32 per heifer.”

Using a corn silage/hay diet, they estimated ration cost to be $1.25 with no shrinkage and $1.37 with normal shrinkage values. A 50-percent reduction in shrinkage results in an annual savings of $23 per head with this diet.

You can never completely eliminate shrink, but steps to reduce it in the areas mentioned above can help trim your feed costs. Harner and Brouk say 2 to 4 percent shrinkage is a realistic target for most non-forage ingredients. The goal should be less than 10 percent for fermented forages and below 5 percent for fermented grains.

Industry standards for the nutrition of Holstein dairy heifers can be found in DCHA’s Gold Standards II and Gold Standards III.