• Tip - Managing feed inventory and limiting shrink: In this paper I share some of the key control points that can impact feed cost and improve herd performance the most during the feeding process. Read paper. Read the article.

  • New article "Workers safety at the dairy": This article I wrote came out last month in Progressive Dairyman magazine. Here I share some of the key areas that need to be covered on a safety training program for workers at the dairy farm. Read article.

  • New article "Milk production dip due to relief feeder": Here's the scenario that Walt Colley from Progressive Dairyman shared with me: Every second Wednesday we recognized a pound or two dip in milk production. We've traced back the feeding records to our inaccuracies when the relief feeder is mixing the ration. We've told him of the errors and watched to make sure he knows how to properly mix the rations. We've taught him about the importance of mixing the ration he receives exactly and how mistakes impact milk production. When he's watched, he does it perfectly. However, if no one is watching, he cuts corners, even though he knows we're tracking his performance. What should we do?" Read my response by clicking here.

"This is a good one to share with your employees at your dairy! "A willing helper does not wait until he is asked" - Danish Proverb.


Managing feed inventory and limiting shrink

APN ConsultingIntroduction
Many dairy producers try to reduce costs by cutting feed costs without realizing how much money they are wasting once the feed, protein mix, or commodity shows up at the farm.  Furthermore, lack of focus on proper silage management, affects feed losses and add cost to the diets even more. 
Putting things into perspective:  Current feed costs per cow can run $7-$8 or more per day.  For a 1,000 cow herd this would represent about $210,000 per month expenses for the lactating cows alone.  Poor feed storage facilities, poor feed management, and lack of feeding consistency can create a 10-15% shrink loss that would represent more than $31,000 per month or over $380,000 per year!! These are dollars spent that will not generate any revenue! 
Many dairymen don’t realize the true cost of their feeding program because they don’t keep track of inventories and so they can’t measure their feed losses.  Thus, not allowing them to identify areas of their feeding program that need to be improved. 
Although eliminating feed losses completely is not possible, both the producer and feeder must focus on controlling and minimizing them. In order to accomplish this a well-planned feeding management system must be put in place along with well-trained feeders to execute the feeding program.
This is why better managing inventories and better monitoring and controlling feed losses can be critical areas to focus on to be able to reduce feed costs. 

Key control points
From my experience working with many dairy producers throughout the United States, there are 3 main areas where the producer, feeder, and nutritionist should focus on in order to better manage feed inventories and minimize feed losses.  These key control points that need to be periodically monitored are: 

  1. Feed handling and storage
  2. Mixing and feeding process
  3. Feed bunk management

Feed handling and storage
Reducing feed losses by improving management practices during the handling and storage of forages and other ingredients can have a substantial economic impact. 
Proper handling begins by having a consistent routine when receiving forages, and feed ingredients at the dairy.  Often times I see feed trucks delivering feed without anyone from the farm in site to control the delivery.  Receiving includes, not only the actual slip or invoice, and placement of the feed, but also the weigh verification, feed inspection, and sampling.  This will ensure both quality and safety of what’s received and will also give more accurate information on inventory control and will help better control shrink losses.  A similar process should be established for any silage and other forages grown and harvested at the farm.
Collect samples of every load of grain, commodity, mineral pack, or feed received, and store them for a reasonable period of time, which can be one month or more depending on the ingredient and usage.  Also, investing in a scale to weigh all ingredients or feed received at the dairy can be a valuable long-term investment.  It will allow you to verify correct receiving weights and immediately address load discrepancies with your supplier.  It will also give you more accurate information that will help you adjust inventory records and control shrink losses.  This is also critical with the silage and other forages grown at the farm.
Several factors will have an impact in shrink losses that are related to storage facilities and the way feed and commodities are handled at the farm.  Typically these are related to wind losses, presence of rodents and birds, and weather, especially when using open commodity sheds or when leaving by products, like wet brewers or distillers, exposed to rain and sun.  Also, the feeder’s attention to details can affect feed losses during handling and storage.  Ensuring the feed center is clean and organized is critical.
Impact of different storage designs
Much has been discussed in many articles and papers about the advantages of storing ingredients in upright bins compared to open-sided commodity sheds (Kertz, A. F., 1998).  Flat storage systems are usually preferred for high inclusion rate ingredients that may not flow well in upright bins.  Examples of these are whole cotton seed, hay, or beet pulp.  Also, protein mixes that contain high levels of liquid fat or molasses are usually recommended to be stored in these flat commodity bays.  However, any other ingredient or feed should be kept in upright-bins, since shrink loss using this storage system will typically be limited to 1 to 2% compared to 5 to 15% with open-sided commodity bays (Kertz, A. F., 1998).  Small differences in shrink loss between storage systems may save a lot of money, especially with expensive ingredients or concentrates. 
With current feed prices, taking into consideration only two ingredients, like soybean meal (SBM), the savings can be over $16,000 per year (Table 1) if using upright bins instead of commodity bays to store the ingredient.  

Silage storage and extraction
Also critical when it comes to reducing feed losses, silage confection and face management are areas that can make a difference when focusing on reducing shrink losses. Weighting what goes in and out of each silage bunk, or pile is the most accurate way of keeping good feed inventory. Much has been said about proper silage management, packing, covering, and extraction methods to reduce losses by Dr. Keith Bolsen (
Proper training of feeders on silage face management is critical to maintain good quality feed and reduce silage losses.  Working with the nutritionist and consultant to define the correct silage extraction protocol and training the people in charge of doing it is critical.  

Mixing and feeding process
As I tell farm employees during my training sessions, precision, consistency, and attention to detailsare the keys to the success and profitability of any feeding program.  Improving loading accuracy and reducing variability during the mixing and feeding process will not only improve animal performance and health, but will also help control feed costs (F. Soriano, 2011). 
Here are some suggestions that will improve mixing uniformity and consistency:

  • Use pre-blends of concentrates, mineral and vitamin packs, and any other small inclusion rate ingredient used in the rations.  Remember that an extra shake of the bucket will increase cost of every load of feed prepared!


Felix Soriano

Felix Soriano
Felix Soriano, MS, PAS