Minimize feed loss with proper storage and management
How much shrink does your dairy’s feed supply undergo? Ten percent? Twenty percent? More? How much does rain, wind, spoilage or even scale inaccuracy rob you of one of your most expensive necessities?
Shrink, or feed loss, occurs daily on most dairies, yet the costs associated with shrink are often ignored, says Joe Harner, a livestock systems expert at Kansas State University.
"On-site dairy discussions tend toward considering shrinkage a non-issue or part of normal feed cost, and opportunities for improvement are considered limited," Harner says.
But a willingness to understand and address the true costs related to shrinkage can lead to significant economic benefits.
Shrink may account for 15% to 20% of your total feed cost, with wet and expensive ingredients representing the greatest concern, Harner says. Whole cottonseed, dry meal and soybean hulls can see shrink losses of 5% to 20% in uncovered open piles, while dry distillers’ grain can lose up to 40%. Ingredients in covered, three-sided bays generally see shrinkage of about half of the open-pile loss. That’s still a loss of up to 20%.
A 2010 study showed that if shrink losses were reduced by 50% for each ingredient used in rations, a dairy could save $100 annually for each cow.
Shrink can be caused by wind, birds, rodents, rain, snow or solar radiation. Delivery weight errors, discarded feed, feed dispersed by tires and tracking, and mixing errors also contribute to feed loss.
"Generally, shrinkage includes not only storage losses but excessive inclusion rates in rations that are unnecessary to meet the nutritional needs of the animal," Harner says.
Feed shrinkage can be reduced in a number of low-cost and even no-cost ways. Harner recommends taking a closer look at the design and operations of your feed center. Consider these points:
|In ration preparation, the accuracy of measuring individual ingredients with a bucket loader often is limited to about 1 cu. ft. to 2 cu. ft. That results in over- or under-feeding individual ingredients.
Photo: Catherine Merlo
1. Curtains down.
At a commodity bay, lowering a curtain or a flexible door at night or when feeding is complete may prevent significant ingredient losses from rainfall and subsequent spoilage. Harner says curtains can also minimize the impact of wind and potential movement of ingredients between bays that do not have solid dividers.
2. The right weigh.
Producers adding small quantities of ingredients may reduce shrink by using a smaller stationary mixer with more accurate scales to pre-weigh the ingredients before moving the feed portions into a larger mixer.
"There is a familiar expression that we measure to the nearest tenth of an inch, mark with chalk and then cut with an axe," Harner says.
This occurs daily on most dairies, he says. Nutritionists formulate rations to the nearest pound, while the weight readout may be to the nearest 10 lb. and the fill mechanism into the mixer is a payloader, which may be accurate to 50 lb. to 100 lb., depending on the operator.
"Assuming a 10-ton mixer with 1% scale accuracy, the potential error ranges from 2% to 195% of the ingredient inclusion weights," Harner says.
3. Scale accuracy.
Accuracy is not related to the precision with which the scale may be read or set. It’s determined by the mechanism, or load cells, used to weigh the mixer box. A readout device on a mixer may read to the nearest 10 lb., but even with a 1-ton mixer with a 1% accurate scale, the accuracy is guaranteed only to the nearest 20 lb., Harner says. He also points to two other basic scale errors:
- Scale inconsistency, which occurs when a scale reading is incorrect by a consistent percentage across the scale’s range. The digital display may read and print the correct formulation weights, but it’s off by a consistent percentage. As a result, the scale may add an extra 25% to the weight of each ingredient.
- Consistent weight addition or subtraction, where the scale adds a fixed amount of weight to every ingredient added to the ration. For example, 25 lb. is added to one ingredient formulated at a 500-lb. inclusion rate, and 25 lb. is added to a second ingredient formulated at a 4,000-lb. inclusion rate. "The nutritionist may not realize that the ingredients at smaller inclusion rates are being over- or underfed in the diet," Harner says.
4. Centralize your mixer.
Larger dairies may benefit from installing a stationary mixer where operational conditions are more controllable, and then using a feed delivery wagon to move feed to the bunks.
A stationary mixer also offers auto-mation, which reduces the number of employees adding ingredients to the mixer. This increases accuracy and reduces the likelihood of human error.
Harner likes the idea of a feed center with a stationary mixer that allows enough room around the mixer to use micro-ingredient tanks as well as liquid tanks.
"Stationary mixers enable more hopper bottom tanks with automated handling equipment to be used for low-inclusion-rate ingredients and liquids," he says. Having a centralized stationary mixer near commodity bays also allows adequate time to secure individual ingredients.
5. Consider a windbreak.
These can be used to reduce shrink around three-sided commodity barns. Harner says a windbreak protects an area 10 times its height. For example, if the windbreak is 10' high, it protects 100'. Storing hay or bedding around the perimeter of the feed center or pens can work as a temporary windbreak.
Windbreaks also help minimize soil and foreign matter from accumulating in the feed center area. "L" shaped commodity sheds provide protection from the wind from multiple directions.
6. Add a roof or totally enclose a commodity building.
Dairies located in colder or wetter climates may benefit from placing the entire feed center under roof to eliminate moisture and wind problems. Harner says he’s beginning to see more of these. Silage can be delivered daily from the storage area and placed in a bay inside the building. Several bays can also be available for ground hay.
"Working with ingredient suppliers and trucking firms is critical prior to construction, since adequate room must be available inside the building to maneuver semi trucks," Harner says.