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Shrinking Your Forage Shrink: Part 1

Mar 03, 2014

By Stan Moore, Michigan State University Extension

As farmers we know that we are losing some of our feedstuffs to “shrink”, but do we know how big the problem is? Forage losses alone are estimated to average 20 percent on U.S. farms. In this first in a two part series, we’ll discuss the cost of loss and where losses occur. In part two, we’ll discuss solutions to reduce your feed shrink.

Research conducted by Mike Brouk, of Kansas State, looked at numerous ways to quantify the cost of loss on dairy farms. One way to look at loss is in the cost of the silage that you are feeding. For instance, if you were able to purchase corn silage at $55/ton delivered, but had a 20 percent shrink, that silage actually cost you around $65/ton for the amount the cows actually consumed. Another way to look at the cost is in the tons and acres required to feed your dairy herd. Brouk showed that reducing your feed shrink by 20 percent would provide 219 tons of extra feed or 11 extra acres (assuming 200 cows fed 30 lbs silage/day and a yield of 20 tons/acre).

Total savings on a 200 cow herd by reducing silage loss (shrink) by 10 percent (at $55/ton) would be around $9,000 for a dairy that is currently at 25 percent loss and is reducing it to 15 percent loss.

So what are the areas that we should look for loss on our farm? Four key areas were examined at the recent “Shrink your Feed Shrink” programs put on by the Michigan State University Extension Dairy Team. The areas of impact include: Harvest, Packing, Covering, and Feed-out.

Harvest losses can occur in the field due to wind, equipment maintenance, or operator error. Estimates of field loss have not been researched to any degree, but a 5 percent loss can easily occur. Other harvest losses relate to the quality of the forages we harvest. If forages are not harvested at the proper moisture we will have difficulty packing, and fermentation quality will be affected.

Packing losses occur when we don’t achieve proper densities in our silages because we don’t spend enough time packing or we don’t have enough weight on the vehicle that we are using to pack. Insufficient packing allows more oxygen to remain in the pile resulting in poorer fermentation and heating losses.

Covering losses occur when we don’t cover the pile at all, don’t properly cover the pile, or we don’t use the correct material. Excluding oxygen from silage and keeping rain from entering the pile affect the quality of the silage and the losses that occur.

Feed out losses occur in three main areas: Face management, amount of feed removed at one time, cover management.

In addition to these four areas, producers should also manage losses due to fly control, birds, and rodents.

In part two of this article we discuss some of the possible solutions that will help you “Shrink your Forage Shrink” on your farm.