What you don't know can hurt you!
by James DeMatteo
Shrink is one of those evasive terms that talks about what you DON'T have. Shrink is, IN FACT, a true expense to your operation. Some of the decisions that you make regarding harvest, storage, and feeding of forage can be setting the stage for your vulnerability to the silent thief of shrink!
If you know what you harvest and what you actually feed, the difference will undoubtedly surprise you. Ask yourself what kind of shrink you have on your operation, and frequently you won't have the answer, or you'll guess that it's "not too bad", or you may answer, "I don't know, and I think I really don't want to know!"
The truth is, a truck scale is one of the biggest moneymakers on the farm. First you have to measure what the reality is today in shrink expense, before you can measure your results in shrink control. If your corn silage costs you $ 25.00/ton harvested, laid in the bunk and covered, every 1% shrink will cost you $250.00/thousand tons. I've talked to dairymen who’ve said that once they've had scales installed, they have discovered shrink exceeding 20%...That equates to a $ 5,000.00 expense per 1,000 tons. So when you consider all of your options regarding forage storage: A covered pile on the ground that may (at first sight) look like you are saving thousands when compared to bagging, may actually be COSTING you thousands.
Once nutrients are consumed, or product is lost through harvest, storage and feed-out management, it is gone forever. What is worse than the actual "disappearance" of product that you planned on having at feed-out, is the feeding of inferior forage products as a result of nutrient shrink. What is "leftover" from a poorly fermented stored forage is often costing the dairy producer milk production every day of the year.
Consider the forage that you are feeding now. Is it heating up at feed-out? If you can feel heat as you place your hand in the pile waiting to be fed, you are actually witnessing the robbery of nutrients from the diet that your cows will consume. "Oh, that’s no big deal," you say! Well it can be a huge deal, if your objective is to maximize profitable milk production.
That "shrink" that robbed you of nutrients earlier, may have left you with a forage product containing far less nutrients than your nutritionist has considered in the formulation of your cows' diets. If protein is limiting in your lactating cow's diet, a 0.10 # of protein can cost you 1.00 # of milk...If energy is limiting in your diet, a one pound shortage of energy can equate to a 3.00 # loss of milk production per cow per day.
It either costs your operation in increased purchased feed expense to compensate for the lost nutrients in your "on farm" feedstuffs: Or it costs you in lost milk production due the feeding of feeds that have been robbed of nutrients.
Let's consider a diet where you are feeding 22 # of dry matter from forage. If you are 1% short in your estimate of the protein content, that's a 0.22 # of protein shortfall (or about 2 # of milk - IF protein is limiting in the diet). If the NEL is 63, instead of 66 mCALS, that could equate to a 0.66 mCAL shortfall. IF energy is limiting, that could equate to another 2 # of milk loss.
At $13.00 milk, that can mean over $18,000.00 less income per 100 cows per year. Depending on face management, you could be feeding a much poorer quality product than what you put up at harvest. This only considers protein and energy. The cost of nutrient loss grows dramatically when you consider the expense of feeding forages that limit dry matter intake due to high levels of butyric acid, forages that are too wet or forages that exacerbate foot problems because they are chopped too fine.
By feeding that "marginal" forage, and decreasing DMI correspondingly, you can drastically effect milk production. A decrease of DMI by one pound can equate to another 1-3 # in sacrificed milk. That can mean another $9,000 per 100 cows per year.
Certainly, some of these losses can be prevented by sound nutritional recommendations based on consistent wet chemistry laboratory analysis of your forages. The underlying point here is that even if you compensate for the damage done to forage through nutrient shrink, it remains that you are compensating for feed quality, and milk production that you have already paid for once...and then lost...through shrink!
We are in a pound business! One pound of milk, one pound of dry matter intake, and one pound of forage saved can translate to a major impact on your bottom line. Ignorance may be bliss, but it can also cost you a lot of money. What you don’t know CAN hurt you!