With feed costs representing more than 50% of the cost of producing milk, this month’s focus is on feeding protocols.
Shrink can be defined as the percent of any feed ingredient raised or purchased that is not consumed by dairy cattle on the farm. Other terms include dry matter losses and waste. Feed protocols are important for the following reasons:
Shrink of all feed ingredients has been estimated to vary from 8% to 15% with forages leading the largest loss category (from 11% to 40%). A Michigan State study reports feed efficiency for energy can be improved by two to three percentage points (from 32% to 35% for example), which is the largest area for improved feed efficiency. Feed shrink can lead to losses of $140 to $170 per cow annually. The following protocols allow readers to explore areas that can reduce shrink and improve profitability.
Protocol 1: Forage storage systems
Silage systems can experience 10% to 1% dry matter losses while baled hay systems can see a range of 15% to 30% dry matter losses. Plastic covering of bunkers and piles reduce dry matter losses by 20%. Oxygen barrier covers reduce total silage dry matter loss by 2% to 5% with 30% savings in dry matter loss in the top 3'.
nA research based silage inoculant can reduce fermentation losses by 3% or more.
Protocol 2: Concentrate storage systems
Silage in commodity sheds can experience 5% to 8% shrink losses due to wind, spillage, bird consumption and rain/snow damage. Methods to reduce these losses include wind protection, mixing inside a commodity building, extending roof overhang and concrete feed aprons. Vertical storage units can reduce shrink down to 2% to 3% compared to commodity storage approaches. Reducing these losses means more savings as expensive feed ingredients can be carefully metered.
Protocol 3: Mixing TMR
Following the same protocol each day on the order of mixing ingredients can reduce time while delivering a consistent ration. For example: feeds needing particle reduction are added first (such as hay or straw). Then, in this order: dry concentrate ingredients, legume-grass silage, wet by-products, corn silage and, finally, liquid ingredients (water or molasses). Pre-processing of long forage ingredients (such as baleage, straw or baled hay) can reduce TMR mixing time and provide a uniform feed particle size. For example, processing straw bales for 18 minutes using the existing TMR mixer or tube grinding unit and storing in a feed commodity shed can result in uniform feed ingredients. Monitor mixing time between the addition of feed ingredients to ensure ingredients are properly mixing. Monitor the optimal particle size that you are targeting for your TMR using the Penn State Particle Box. No feed ingredients are added to the TMR at rates less than 2 lb. per cow, which allows the mixer to uniformly mix. Pre-blending minerals, additives, fat source and protein ingredients can reduce shrink and weighing errors. One approach is to have a company or cooperative deliver this blended concentrate mixture, as they have ribbon mixers leading to a more uniform mix. It may be cheaper than on-farm mixing due to less mixing error, the need for a large inventory of commodities on the farm and the costs of bulk purchases of ingredients.
Check dry matter content in wet feed ingredients (silages and wet byproduct feeds) to adjust for changes in moisture due to changes in the field or from rain or snow. Weekly sampling wet feed ingredients and the TMR can provide valuable data. A commercial optical unit, food dehydrator, Koster hot air unit or microwave oven can be used on the farm, but make sure to follow the printed protocol.
Protocol 4. Feed bunk management
Mixing errors impact nutrient balance (such as too much or shortage protein for example), raise feed costs and lead to errors in inventory control. Protocols for the feeder should be monitored and evaluated (such as plus/minus a given percent from targeted levels of each feed ingredient added). A
bonus system based on meeting protocol guidelines may be a win-win for both the dairy farmer and feeder. Feed weigh backs is also an area of shrink. Feeding to an empty bunk eliminates this risk, but cows wanting or needing more dry matter can limit milk production. If sorting occurs (shifts greater than 5% in any of the Penn State Particle Box compared to the TMR) it might result in cows having to
consume an imbalanced ration. One recommendation is to aim for 1% to 2% weigh back per day.
Feeding weigh backs from the lactating cows to older heifers represents another source of shrink. Older heifers do not need a ration containing 16% crude protein or a feed additive such as buffers. One approach is to feed the weigh back to another group of animals, blending other feed ingredients to meet those animals’ needs. Monitor the consistency of the TMR at various points of the feed bunk. The Penn State Particle Box is a useful tool or check nutrient content (such as crude protein or NDF). If the TMR is variable, unload feed using several passes instead of one pass feeding may reduce variation.
Consider topping off existing TMR based on feed bunk readings at each milking. If bunks are low, add more TMR instead of dropping all the TMR at one feedings. Develop a protocol when to check scales for accuracy. Sudden stops and starts can cause damage to load cells. Starlings can consume 0.06 lb. per bird. If there are 1,000 birds present, they consume 60 lb. of corn or concentrate feed—not forages—changing the ration balance.
Head locks or parallel feed dividers reduce shrink by 2% to 3% compared to post and rail feed barriers due to feed tossing and fly pressure response.
In summary, if dry matter intake changes due to shrink, consider the economic
impact. One pound of dry matter valued at 12¢ can lead to a loss of 2 lb. of milk worth 30¢ to 35¢ per day. Commercial feed mills run less than 1% shrink. What is your current shrink value and future target?
Providing the same ration everyday leads to happy cows and optimal production. Good luck in shrinking the shrink!