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Estimating and managing feed levels

Matt Laubach Published on 18 April 2014

One of the biggest challenges on a dairy operation is estimating how much feed you have on hand and how long it will last. However, a few simple steps can make your estimating and planning processes easier.

The feed inventory process
First, growers should inventory all feedstuffs on the dairy. What are your current major forage feeds? What types of structures do you use to store them? The answers to these questions will help you begin determining the volume of feed on hand.



Next, what are the measurements of your storage structures? Using a tape measure, measuring wheel, or by even stepping off the distance, calculate the width, length and depth of your silos. If you have an upright tower silo, you will need to know the diameter and height of the feed column.

There are a number of preprogrammed spreadsheets available to help you calculate silage volume, and I suggest using one to simplify your calculations. One example is available from the University of Wisconsin.

After you determine the volume of feed you have on hand, you need to calculate its weight. Remember to follow all safety protocols when working in front of silage faces, as shifts in the feed can happen. The first step toward calculating weight is determining the density of the feed.

You can measure actual density if you have a silage density probe, or you can use an estimated value. For example, 15 pounds dry matter (DM) per cubic foot is a typical density estimate for corn silage bunkers.

By multiplying the volume in cubic feet by the density, you will calculate the approximate pounds DM of feed on hand. Dividing that result by 2,000 will calculate the DM tons of feed on hand. If you would like to convert to as-fed tons, divide your DM tons by the feedstuffs’ dry matter percentage. The result is the amount of feed you have in storage.


Evaluate your feed inventory
Once your forage sources are inventoried, you can evaluate whether or not you have enough feed on hand. Gauge the amount you are feeding each day for your operation, determine how many days of feed you still need, multiply those numbers together, and convert the result to tons.

Is this number higher or lower than your calculation of feed inventory? If it’s higher, meaning you are feeding more than you have on hand, will you need to make ration adjustments or purchase feed? If it’s lower, you might be able to feed more, or you might consider producing less in the coming growing season.

It’s helpful to estimate feed levels at least twice per year – when your storage structures are filled after the growing season and again in the winter to determine if any ration adjustments are required. Planning ahead keeps time on your side and may help you capture a lower price on any necessary feed purchases.

As you inventory, consider examining a sample of each feed source to help you determine the quality and amount of feed you have on hand. Feed samples can also help you make decisions about which feedstuff is fed to each class of livestock.

Plan for next year
After you have solid information on the quantity and quality of feeds on hand and a general plan for which class of livestock is being fed each product, you can start planning for your upcoming growing season. What feedstuffs need to be produced and at what quality? What inventory levels will you need next year?

Don’t forget to include shrink as part of your calculation. (See DuPont Pioneer's web page for more information on shrink.) What does your crop plan look like?


Do you have the potential to take one cutting of alfalfa and then plant shorter-season corn silage? Will you need an emergency forage source to help cover gaps between old-crop and new-crop corn silage? What are your options for forage products?

Planning ahead will help you capture early-season discounts from seed companies. It’s helpful to have everything planned for the spring rush, but you should be ready with a backup plan in case you need to adjust for unexpected spring conditions.

Also, remember to determine the extent of winterkill in your alfalfa and decide if the stand remains viable or if you should plant another crop.

Estimating and managing feed levels is an ongoing process with many variables. It is a task that, when done accurately, will help you manage your feed needs and plan ahead. Since forage is such a large part of the dairy ration, it is critical to control your inventories and leverage advance planning for the growing season. PD

Matt Laubach is a dairy specialist with DuPont Pioneer. Contact him by email .

matt laubach

Matt Laubach
Dairy Specialist
DuPont Pioneer