Dairy Focus: Reduce feed bunk shrink to improve profitability and feed efficiency

Farm Forum

Feed shrinkage is caused by many factors, including delivery weight errors, wind, birds, rodents, tires, tracked feed, cattle tossing feed, silage bunker losses, feed refusals, bunk heating and spoilage, moisture losses, mixing errors, scale accuracy, push-up blades, comingling of ingredients, feed wasted by feeders and drives, feed bunk management, plastic management, moving/storing feed and water damage.

You always are going to have some shrinkage. Of course, the goal should be to minimize it.

For example, in a recent study by an Arizona dairy, the managers measured shrinkage during a 60-day period. They found losses of mill-run feed of more than 16 percent, dry distillers grain of more than 9 percent, commercial soybean meal of more than 9 percent, alfalfa hay of more than 7 percent and corn silage of more than 16 percent.

The nutrition consultant for this dairy helped it reach a goal of only 5 percent shrinkage. The value of all feed lost at 5 percent was nearly $175,000 per year, based on 2012 feed prices, compared with the 12 percent, or nearly $420,000, of lost feed the previous year. That means the dairy saved $245,000 when it put the effort into reducing shrinkage. These losses occurred on a 1,000-cow dairy and included the cost of the feed for the milking herd, dry cows and heifers, but not the calves.

The potential impact of feed efficiency on the economic performance of the dairy enterprise is undeniable. From the perspective of efficiency, if feed waste is reduced and production (such a milk yield or pounds gained) is maintained, then when waste is reduced, efficiency will improve.

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. Regardless of your approach as a manager, watch for trends in the herd or on a farm through time. Ultimately, you are attempting to reduce costs and increase income.

One simple way to improve feed efficiency is to employ good bunk management. Paying proper attention to eating behavior and managing the feed bunk accordingly can increase feed efficiency and decrease feed cost.

Feeding behavior of group-housed dairy cows is influenced by management practices at the feed bunk and factors associated with the physical and social 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. The same considerations apply to managing replacement heifers and dry cows, whether housed and fed in confinement or on pasture.