Reducing shrink with feed yard management - Cowsmo

Reducing shrink with feed yard management

What is shrinkage? It is the amount of feed delivered to or raised on  the farm that is not consumed by the cattle for which it was intended.

The current costly feed prices mean producers should examine all  aspects of the dairy for opportunities that improve efficiencies to  reduce shrinkage or waste. Managers who can identify and adjust for  inefficiencies such as sorting, social effects and meal patterns can  reduce feed costs without losing animal productivity.


Wisconsin researchers observed extensive total mixed ration (TMR)  sorting in the feed bunk in university and on-farm trials. Factors that  contribute to cows sorting include the dry matter (DM) content of forage  and feed mixes, particle size of forage and mix, cobs present in corn  silage, amount of hay added to the feed mix, quality of hay, frequency  of feeding, bunk space and feed access time. This was more evident for  TMR containing 40 percent than 20 percent DM alfalfa hay.

One approach is to reduce feed offerings to encourage dairy heifers  to consume all or most long feed particles. If sorting is a problem,  also consider one or more of the following:

  • Feed smaller amounts more frequently
  • Add less hay to the mix
  • Process hay more finely
  • Use higher-quality hay
  • Use hay that is more pliable
  • Process corn silage
  • Add water to drier TMR
  • Add a liquid molasses product to TMR to bind fines

Work closely with your nutritionist because every situation differs.  Also keep in mind that limit feeding is more conducive to growing  heifers than lactating cows, especially early lactation cows. While you  can save money reducing feed waste, any loss in milk would more than  offset the savings. Don’t give up milk.

Social Effects

Social rank often is closely related to factors such as age and body  size. Smaller animals are intimidated by larger animals when individual  animal weight in the group of heifers varies by more than 125 pounds.  Consequently, intake is compromised and growth rates slowed, regardless  of feed quality.

Therefore, special attention to first-calf heifers makes sense. These  younger animals often have lower positions in a group’s dominance  hierarchy compared with older cows. Because of the effects of aggression  at the feed bunk on feeding behavior, managing primiparous cows in a  separate group often is beneficial.

Meal Pattern

Ruminal pH declines following meals, with the rate of pH decline  increasing as meal size increases and dietary neutral detergent fiber  concentration decreasing. Bunk management practices that cause cows to  eat fewer and larger meals more quickly may be associated with an  increased incidence of ruminal acidosis and subsequent laminitis.  Factors that can cause this slug feeding phenomena include:

  • Limited bunk space
  • Limited feed access time
  • Restricted feeding versus feeding for 5 to 10 percent refusal
  • Inconsistent feeding schedule, infrequent TMR push-up
  • Feed bunk competition

The feeding behavior of group-housed dairy cows is influenced by  management practices at the feed bunk and factors associated with the  physical and social environment. The feeding pattern of group-housed  dairy cows is largely influenced by the timing of fresh feed delivery,  and the delivery of fresh feed has a greater impact on stimulating cows  to eat than does the return from milking.

Delivering fresh feed more frequently improves access to fresh feed  for all cows and reduces sorting of the TMR. This potentially will  reduce variations in diet quality consumed by cows, with benefits for  milk production. The combination of limited bunk space (less than 1.5  feet per cow) and time to access feed (less than 16 to 20 hours per day)  is worse than either situation alone.

Waste comes in many forms, visible and invisible. The portion of feed  discarded due to mold or that remains on the ground after loading or in  the pen after feeding is easy to see. Quantifying when ingredients are  under- or overfed to a group of cattle, or the losses to birds and other  wildlife, sorted mixed diets and social order in the pen is more  difficult. Applying these techniques can help dairy managers provide the  right feed to the right cows at the right time in the right place at  the right price.

Source: Dairy Herd Network

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