Reducing shrink may be the difference between a dairy staying in or going out of business, according to Dr. Mike Brouk, professor and extension dairy specialist at Kansas State University.
Coffeen peggy
Coffeen was a former editor and podcast host with Progressive Dairy. 

At the 2019 Vita Plus Dairy Summit, Brouk uncovered often-overlooked opportunities for reducing feed cost per hundredweight (cwt) of milk produced that don’t require a change to the ration. Savings in the feeding area can be captured by reducing waste from the time the feed arrives at the farm to when it is delivered to the cow.

A 500-cow dairy with an annual feed cost of $7.50 per cow per day could potentially gain $50,000 or more each year reducing shrink by just 4%, according to Brouk. Comparatively speaking, capturing $50,000 from milk price alone for a 500-cow herd would require an additional 32 cents per cwt for the year, or squeezing out an another 1.61 pounds of milk per cow per day. “Or we can reduce our feed shrink to gain $50,000,” Brouk said.

One way to reduce wasted feed and grab onto those extra dollars is to tighten up management of the feed center. Examine the feed center, taking note of feed that blows away in the wind or falls off the front of the loader bucket onto the ground.

“These [buckets] are part of our shrink issue,” Brouk said. Designed for forages and low-density materials, they do not work well for dumping items like mineral mix or whole cottonseed into the wagon. This leads to a lot of feed delivery errors, often followed by overcompensation for the lost feed, and creates another area for shrink to creep in. Overfeeding just 23 cents per day on a 1,000-cow dairy adds up to $83,000 on an annual basis.


Thus, feeder accuracy is important. Tracking software is a helpful tool. “But here’s what we really need to do: Sit down and talk to the feeder about how they are actually doing,” Brouk added.

Storage is another factor that influences feed waste.

“In general, we have more shrink with the three-sided commodity sheds than we do in the enclosed types of storage,” Brouk said. In a totally enclosed system, he says shrink can be reduced down to just 2%. In fact, one dairy he works with reduced shrink enough to pay back their building costs on a four-sided commodity shed in just three years.

Upright bins for short-term storage can also be a cost-effective alternative to three-sided commodity bays, not only because they require less of a capital investment but also for the energy savings. The electricity to run unloaders from the bins is less than the energy required to power a front-end loader. Further, shrink generally goes up as we store things on the farm longer. Less storage and more frequent feed delivery may be advantageous for some dairies.

Brouk believes silage management is one of the greatest areas where we can influence shrink. He posed the question, “Typically, when we include the cost of corn silage, we include the cost to grow, the cost to harvest, the cost to pack it and cover it. But how about shrink? Most of the time, not.”

On a 1,000-cow dairy feeding 30 pounds of corn silage per cow per day, 35% shrink is the equivalent of more than a $100,000 annual loss, just on silage alone. The expense, however, doesn’t end there. “That’s an extra 55 acres of corn you have to grow,” Brouk pointed out. “It’s a pretty expensive bill you are footing every year just because of shrink.”

Brouk shared these three tips for improving silage:

  1. Evaluate kernel processing while the crop is being chopped, and make necessary changes in the field.

  2. Do a good job packing and covering silage. Use enough weight to ensure packing, and use tools such as surface inoculants and barriers to reduce spoilage.

  3. Consider technology. Remember that the cost to reduce shrink is only part of the conversation. Take also into account the effects of milk production.

“There’s a feed cost side, but also a milk production side,” Brouk said. “Make sure you are working on both, not just one. By working on both, you can increase the efficiency of your dairy.”  end mark

Peggy Coffeen