Feed shrink - Economic loss and environmental impacts

Feed waste and losses, commonly referred to as feed shrink, is common to all livestock facilities. Farm raised and purchased forages, grains, and proteins are usually the largest expense item for most livestock farms, so any improvement in feed shrink will have a positive impact on the financial bottom line. The amount of feed shrink varies widely from farm to farm and it would be impossible to have zero feed shrink on a livestock facility. Except for gaseous fermentation losses, almost all feed shrink eventually ends up in the fields. Any reduction in feed shrink will also reduce the amount of nutrients entering the environment including phosphorus. Purchased feed is the largest source of imported phosphorus on almost all livestock farms.

Most livestock farmers underestimate the amount of their forage storage shrink. Sources indicate that some farmers are able to manage their forage storage shrink to as low as 6% but losses over 15% are more common. Keeping forage storage shrink to less than 10% is a reasonable goal. Mismanagement of the forage system can contribute up to 30% forage shrink on some farms. Some commercial feed mills attain a 1% grain/concentrate shrink but many livestock farms have grain/concentrate shrink over 10%. Attaining less than a 5% grain/concentrate shrink on a livestock farm would be a good goal. Knowing the actual amount of feed shrink on a given farm is difficult without a scale system weighing and recording every feedstuff that enters/leaves the farm or fed to livestock. Following is a summary of some various areas of potential feed shrink.


  • Harvesting - proper moisture and cut length enabling proper fermentation;
  • Piling or filling process - done quickly with adequate packing;
  • Covering pile - done properly and quickly;
  • Storage structure - cracks, uneven floors, and mud can cause spoilage and losses;
  • Bunker or bag face management - adequate daily removal and maintaining a flat face.
  • Wild animal control - deer, raccoon, rodent, birds - direct losses and spoilage.

Feed center and TMR:

  • Wind - blowing away feed stored in piles and/or when dumping feed into TMR;
  • Water damage - leaky roofs and bins, improper drainage;
  • Feed moisture and spoilage loss - any feed spoilage, especially wet concentrates;
  • Spillage and tires - depositing feed around farmyard by spillage or sticking to implement tires;
  • Rodent and bird control - direct losses and spoilage


  • Cattle tossing feed - post and rail feed lines have higher loss than headlock systemsp;
  • Feed refusals - keep to less than 3-5%, offer refusals to other livestock;
  • Feed bunk heating and spoilage - affects intake, nutrition, and increases waste;
  • Type and management of baled hay feeders - losses range from 3.5 to 15% and are so high as 45% without a bale feeder

Sources indicate that many livestock farms have an opportunity to reduce feed shrink by at least 5%. I took the total feed usage numbers available to me from a dairy farm and calculated a 5% reduction for purchased grain, concentrates, and forages. I then calculated the additional feed that farm would have had available when not losing 5% of homegrown forages; this further reduced forage purchases.

The example herd had 330 lactation cows and 320 heifers; however, I adjusted the numbers to a 100-cow dairy herd raising all its own heifers for easier comparison to most facilities. The table below illustrates that the savings by reducing total feed shrink by 5% could be over $10,000 per year for a 100-cow dairy, a significant economic impact. Economic values obviously vary with market prices; the values used here are a reflection of prices mid-2015. Many feed shrink reducing strategies boil down to managers and employees paying attention to small details in daily operations.

Annual economics of reducing shrink by 5% for a 100 cow dairy
Forages $2,500
Grain/Concentrate $8,200
Total $10,700

I applied a 5% shrink savings across all feedstuffs on this farm when in reality a given farm would probably have greater shrink saving opportunities with some feeds than others. The savings with the grain/concentrate portion of the above table is greater than the forages since most purchased proteins and minerals are more expensive per ton than forages. Therefore, while there is potential for considerable shrink in the forage system, the grain/concentrate portion contains more expensive and nutrient dense ingredients, which can contribute to greater losses in both finances and nutrients to the environment. Reducing on farm feed shrink can have a significant impact on the amount of nutrients, including nitrogen and phosphorus, harvested or purchased but not consumed by any livestock.

Another benefit of some of the listed strategies to minimize shrink would be higher quality feed fed to livestock, which could translate into higher production.