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Feed Inventory Tracking: Underutilized But Critical

Posted: October 28, 2011

Feed inventory tracking enhances feed management decisions.

Pennsylvania averaged over nine inches of rain in September, with significant amounts falling in several areas throughout the Commonwealth. This severe weather hampered an already spotty forage and crop harvest for many. The end result is not just lower quality feeds on farm, but some feed deficits also exist. Combine that with volatile grain and feed price markets, and the need for managing feed costs becomes even more critical. One step to aid in feed cost management is tracking feed inventories. This simple step is a key component to better feed management decisions.

What is it?

Feed Inventory tracking is a simple data method that producers can utilize to track feed levels and manage long term goals, but some do not take the time to estimate feed inventories and track their levels throughout the year. It takes many forms, from a simple notebook with initial quantities and regular feed out reductions, to spreadsheets tracking various feedstuffs, and can even go as far as specialized software and automated feed management software. Regardless of the method employed, calculated current weights of feeds in storage (volume of feed multiplied by density of stored feed) estimates the starting point that then can be used to estimate and plan the use of the feed.

How to start?

There are various programs, online spreadsheets, and tools available to help producers start estimated current inventories. The Penn State Extension Dairy Team has built a silage inventory estimation sheet into their cash flow spreadsheet. It estimates feedstuffs from various storage systems into one overall inventory estimation. For help with this tool for overall cash flow, including inventory estimation, check out the Managing Your Milk Margin to Improve Your Dairy’s Cash Flow workshops that continue in January 2012.

University of Wisconsin and Michigan State University have several spreadsheets online that also assist in volume/density estimations to determine final feed inventories for a variety of storage systems and forages. Once you have initial estimates, routine adjustments for what has been used are also important. Doing so will aid in future planning decisions, and help reveal possible shrink and storage losses that are greater than expected.

Why track it?

First, tracking inventories allows you to know what is on hand and how long it may last given current feed out rates. It also allows a producer to look at some “what-if” scenarios to make better decisions. What if haylage increases in a ration, how long will it last? What if a cheaper feed is added to supplement supplies, will it last until next harvest? What if the corn silage storage losses are greater than usual, will there be enough? Addressing or planning for these types of questions before they actually happen can help ease stress and also give producers greater control over feeding decisions. Another benefit of knowing current feed inventory is the ability to determine if feeds will last to next harvest. Multiply the feed out rate (i.e. tons/day) by the number of days until next harvest and subtract this from current inventory. A negative value means feeds will need purchased, a positive value means there is excess.

Don’t Forget…

Sometimes it is easy to overlook some steps when tracking feed inventories. First, use realistic rations that have been formulated by a nutritionist. When reducing inventories after feeding, use the actual ration fed. Don’t forget that there is feed going to the dry cows and heifers, and they help to reduce feed inventories as well. It is easy to overlook those groups when tracking inventories, but they do contribute to the feed consumption. Changes in the ration will occur, and that could impact the length of time a feedstuff will last. Don’t forget to recalculate the feed lasting to next harvest value indicated in the prior paragraph when there are changes to the rations (any ration, not just the milk cows).

Summary

Feed inventory tracking is a simple method that enhances feed management decisions. In a time of low harvest yields, volatile grain and feed price markets, knowing what is on hand, how long it will last, and the ability to plan for shortfalls is a critical component to a producer's feed management decisions.

Contact Information

Robert C. Goodling
  • Extension Associate, Dairy
Phone: 814-863-3663