The trucks are starting to roll, with more and more calves being weaned from their mothers and shipped off to greener pastures. Some of these calves will head to Kansas and Oklahoma where they will graze winter wheat pastures, while others will head to Nebraska and Iowa where they will graze corn stalks this winter, before being finished. With shipping on the forefront for many ranchers, today I’ll share a few tips for managing shrink at shipping time.
“Shrink” is weight loss that occurs when cattle are gathered, transported, processed, or off feed or water. The greater the weight loss, the lower the pay weight on the cattle. There are two types of shrink – fill shrink and tissue shrink. Fill shrink is the loss of rumen fill, manure, and urine that occurs when cattle don’t eat or drink. This type of shrink is recovered relatively quickly after they begin eating and drinking again. Tissue shrink, however, is a decrease in the weight of the carcass and body tissues, it’s the loss of extra-cellular and intra-cellular fluid loss, and is associated with long periods without feed and water. Fill shrink occurs first, and as time goes on, tissue shrink accounts for increasingly more of the weight loss.
The amount that cattle shrink is affected by the type of feed they are consuming, the gathering and sorting process, if they are weaned or not, the length and conditions of the haul, and any unusual conditions such as weather that may add additional stress.
Cattle on highly digestible, lush, green grass shrink more than if they are on a less digestible, dried grass or hay. A Montana study showed that cattle off dry pasture shrank 3.5% after a two-hour haul, compared to cattle that had been on lush, green forage that shrank 5.3%. If you will be feeding hay prior to shipping, feed a forage type that cattle are used to. Otherwise, a change in diet (such as from native grass to alfalfa hay) can cause digestive upsets and alfalfa hay also results in greater shrink.
Cattle that are handled quietly and efficiently shrink less than cattle that go through an extensive gathering, sorting, and hauling process. Take time now, before shipping day, to make sure your facilities are in good order so that you can quickly and efficiently sort and ship cattle. If you can take the time to sort steers from heifers, sort out any calves that won’t be going on the truck on shipping day, pick replacement heifers, etc. ahead of time, that will allow the rest of the calves to get to the scale that much faster, with less shrink and a greater payweight. For every 30 minutes that a group of cattle are moved around in a corral, expect an additional 0.5% weight loss. So, if you spend extra time on shipping day repairing corrals, sorting out replacement heifers, or even taking 20 minutes for a coffee and a donut, realize that shrink that is increasing with each of those activities.
Newly weaned calves can shrink as much as 8% if they are forced to stand in the yard for several hours or overnight. On a 650 pound steer, an 8% shrink is over 50 pounds lost. Weaning prior to shipping minimizes these losses.
The length of haul and conditions of haul greatly impact shrink as well. Cattle will shrink about 2% more during shipping than if they were drylotted for the same number of hours. Just loading and hauling cattle a short distance results in a typical 3% shrink. Making sure to not overload the truck and that there is good footing in the truck helps minimize shrink during transport.
May you have a safe and successful fall shipping season! This has been Kari Lewis with the MSU Extension Minute from Glacier County, have a great week!