On most operations, feed cost will represent the largest single cost center. As feed cost has increased, awareness of feed shrink has increased. Feed shrink is defined as the amount of feed that is delivered or raised but not consumed.
Feed shrink is caused by many factors, from operator error to natural causes. The ways are legion: delivery weight errors, wind, birds, rodents, tracked feed, cattle tossing feed, silage bunker losses, bunk heating and spoilage, mixing errors, scale accuracy and water damage. These losses may represent 5 to 30 percent of the feed used. Thus, reducing shrink is an important part of reducing feed cost and stretching forage inventories.
Check to ensure that you are getting what you paid for. If you do not have scales on your farm, consider using scales at your MFA.
In some areas, and with some ingredients (really fine DDGs come to mind) wind is a daily threat to controlling feed cost. Dry ingredients with a small particle size and low density are the most affected by wind losses. These are easily carried away by the wind. Commodity sheds, which are designed to allow delivery trucks to dump feed on a concrete apron outside the facility can suffer significant losses on windy days. Some on-farm records indicate that losses of soybean meal in a commodity shed are 8 to 9 percent. If you are paying $600 per ton for soybean meal, the real cost is about $655 per ton. Put another way, at a two-pound daily feeding rate, daily feed cost just increased by 5.5 cents per cow. In areas where wind is a factor, consider wind direction when planning facilities.
How many deadbeat varmints did you feed today? Birds—particularly starlings—can create a significant negative impact on feed cost. Starlings can consume or destroy up to 50 percent of their body weight in grain each day (figure about an ounce per bird per day), so a flock of thousands can be a significant source of shrink. Additionally, bird fecal contamination may pose a disease risk. Bird control is usually needed for two to four months each year. Facility design can greatly reduce the losses due to birds. Many different methods of control including habitat management, harassment and population management can be effective. Habitat management includes reducing access to feed and water. Birds will generally not roost in the same area as they feed. Lowering the water level in drinking troughs to more than six inches from the top of the water will prevent birds from drinking while perching on the rim and maintaining a water depth of greater than 6 inches will prevent birds from standing and drinking.
Losses due to rodents may be due to several factors. Rodents are generally attracted to feeds with higher fat contents. Waste due to holes in bags or increased spoilage associated with holes in silage covers may be a greater concern than the actual consumption of feed. Rodent control around silage piles includes excellent weed control and is some cases may involve the using fencing to keep rodents away from the feed. Additionally, deer, turkeys and raccoons can cause significant spoilage and consume significant amounts of feed.
Wet tires are very efficient in tracking feedstuffs around the farm. Bumps are great for unloading feed at places other than the wagon. Take a look around do you see feed in places other than the bunk, mixer wagon or storage unit?
Hay is an expensive cattle toy, they seem to enjoy tossing it. Increased fly pressure will generally increase hay-tossing behavior. Post-and-rail feed barriers allow for more tossing. Studies estimate that the feed loss is 2.5 percent less when headlocks are utilized as the feed barrier.
Reducing silage losses is a matter of correctly managing harvest, filling and sealing to exclude air and feedout. The most critical factor may be harvest moisture. Inoculants or preservatives may help reduce losses, but losses increase when the material is either too dry or wet. For corn silage, it is better too wet than too dry. For legume silages, it is better too dry than too wet. Overfilling bunkers or packing only in one direction increases losses due to inadequate air exclusion.
When feeding high-moisture feeds, check to see if the feed is heating in the bunk. This is especially important during the summer. Heated feed is the result of fungal growth. It will reduce palatability and energy density. Ensuring adequate use rates of high-moisture fermented feeds and more frequent feeding tend to help reduce heating in the bunk.
You can make a quick check is to determine how actual feed disappearance compares to the feed disappearance budget. If you are feeding 10 pounds per day per head of Cattle Charge to 40 calves, a two-ton load should last 10 days. If on day nine, you turn on the auger and nothing comes out (and you realize you need feed delivery today rather than tomorrow), it looks like you have shrink of 11 percent.
Also consider the order of ingredient addition to the mixer. A bad trick, one that I have done myself, is to achieve final weight by the amount of the last ingredient added. That’s a easy way to ensure that the last ingredient will be either over- or under-fed. And it means that the other ingredients in the diet will also be fed at incorrect rates.
Scales require calibration and maintenance. Sudden stops or starts while on the scale platform can cause significant damage. Scales should be certified at recommended intervals. Certification means that the scale operates within a certain range of accuracy.
Moisture can easily damage minerals and vitamins. It also may result in mold growth in other dry feeds. It adds weight that reduces the amount of dry matter. Piled dry feed in bunkers are prime candidates for potential feed loss from water.
Dr. Jim White is ruminant nutritionist for MFA Incorporated.