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Don’t Let Feed Shrink Cause Shrinking Margins

Maureen Hanson


September 9, 2020



Feed is likely your dairy’s #1 expense. Whether you’re raising it yourself or purchasing it from outside suppliers, it’s far too expensive to allow it to simply go to waste.


Mike Brouk, PhD, Professor and Extension Specialist in the Department of Animal Sciences and Industry at Kansas State University, said minimizing feed shrink is an area of significant economic opportunity on most dairies. Brouk recently shared his advice on reducing feed waste via a virtual presentation as part of the Nebraska Extension Dairy webinar series. 


The three-sided commodity sheds found on many dairies are a handy way to store commodity feed ingredients, but Brouk cautioned they often are prone to waste. He offered these tips for maximizing retention of feedstuffs in these buildings:


1. Design carefully – If you’re building a new commodity shed, think about the number of bays you will need, as well as their size. Brouk said bays often use less than half of their physical space to actually store feed. Situate the commodity shed in an area on the farm that is best protected from the wind, rain and snow, and allows easy to access with equipment. And be sure to grade the slope at the site correctly to ensure that moisture does not travel back into the bays.


2. Use all-in, all-out management – When you’re bringing in a new batch of ingredients, be sure to push the remaining supply of the previous batch to the front. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a back end containing feed that is months or even years old, lower-quality, and potentially spoiled. Keep batches of the same feedstuff separated so their true nutrition profile is reflected in the end ration. 


3. Prevent wind erosion – During the night, no access to commodity sheds is needed, yet leaving them wide open can lead to significant wind losses. Stacking bales in front of the shed, or installing roll-down curtains or tarps, can help prevent this erosion. 


4. Load out of the wind – The wind also can carry away a significant amount of feed if loading is conducted out in the open. Solutions to this could be building a windbreak near the commodity shed to shield the TRM mixer when loading, or designing a system in which loading is done indoors.


5. Minimize spillage – Another critical control point where feed is lost is off the edges of the loader bucket if too large of scoops are taken. Feeders should be trained to avoid this. To clean up spillage, some dairies use a power broom attached to a skid loader, so the feed is not completely lost, and the driveway outside the shed remains clear of spoiled feed.


An alternative solution to reducing waste from a three-sided commodity barn may be to not use one at all. “Average feed waste per year in commodity barns ranges from 1.6% for minerals to 8.4% for dried distillers grains,” said Brouk. “In total, about 6-7% of commodities are lost from open-front sheds annually, versus about 4% for enclosed sheds or upright storage.”


He shared an example of a 500-cow dairy in Canada that switched from a commodity shed to a computerized system that stored concentrates in bins, then augered them into a central collection basket that then dropped them into the TMR mixer on top of forages and dry hay. While one load was being fed, the next was being mixed, shaving 20 minutes per load or 4 hours per day off their feeding time. The dairy found that a load of soybean meal that lasted 8 weeks in the commodity shed lasted 10 weeks in the bin, cutting their soybean meal purchases by 32 tons per year. And because the collection basket weighed commodities to the nearest half pound, ration consistency was vastly improved.


Some dairies also are adopting systems to process grain before it enters the TMR. “A roller-mill system that cracks whole corn immediately before it is mixed will eliminate the waste that is incurred when a load of cracked corn is dumped into a feed bay,” advised Brouk.


Another alternative may be to forego storing commodities on-farm completely. “If a local feed mill can mix and deliver the concentrate premix, a dairy can dramatically reduce its facility investment cost, losses due to shrink, and inventory that they have to carry on the farm,” advised Brouk. “It has to be a win-win arrangement for both, but in many cases, it makes more sense to outsource mixing services.”


Regardless of the approach, Brouk said reducing commodity shrink results in real dollars captured by the farm. He said a 1,000 cow dairy that lowers its rate of shrink by 2% will save about $33,000 per year. “That’s margin that can either help a dairy weather a slim year, or invest in new facilities to improve feed retention even more,” suggested Brouk. 


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