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Shrink Can be Managed

Posted Jun. 1, 2004

The following information, from the Noble Research Institute's cattle cycle booklet, provides an easy way to increase profits in the cattle business. It is free additional profit for those who desire to manage their cattle operation in an efficient manner.

Many factors are involved in weight loss, or "shrink," of cattle during the marketing process. Shrink is the difference between the animal's body weight prior to sale handling and the actual sale weight — the amount of weight lost during corralling, loading, transporting and standing at the sale barn.

The two types of shrinkage are excretory and tissue. Excretory is the loss of contents through urination or fecal material. Excretory shrinkage is common, and acceptable levels are between two and six percent. Tissue shrinkage occurs when the animal becomes dehydrated. The animal's body will start compensating by pulling moisture and nutrients from the carcass tissues. Tissue shrinkage occurs when the animal undergoes extensive handling or is held off feed and water for long periods of time.

A producer's net returns decrease as shrink increases — so a producer's income is directly affected by shrinkage. It is costly and unnecessary for animals to incur a combined shrinkage of more than six percent, and it could take as long as a month for an animal to recover from excessive shrink. However, producers do have some control over the shrink of their animals.

Factors affecting shrink include age, weight, feed, water, weather, facilities, personnel, loading and unloading, transportation, grouping and even paperwork.

Age
The younger the calf, the more susceptible it is to shrink.

Weight
The more a calf weighs, the less it will shrink.

Feed
The higher the moisture content, the greater the excretory shrinkage. A stocker on grass will shrink faster than a stocker eating dry hay.

Water
If an animal intakes large amounts of water before handling, it causes unnecessary shrinkage.

Weather
Extreme temperatures will increase shrink.

Facilities
The less an animal is stressed, the lower the amount of shrink. Good facilities can lower the amount of stress on the animal and the producer.

Personnel
It is better to have a few experienced handlers rather than a large group of inexperienced ones, because the people moving the animals can also cause stress.

Loading and Unloading
Facilities should reflect the natural instinct of cattle to move in circles and follow each other. It is also important to not over- or under-load a truck.

Transportation
It is important for trucks to arrive clean and on time.

Grouping
Grouping animals with unfamiliar ones can cause stress.

Paperwork
Paperwork should be handled ahead of time to reduce the time animals wait for delivery.

Producers can avoid practices that increase shrink and decrease revenues, and they can also manage their marketing/delivery in a manner to virtually eliminate shrink. These practices can include delivery to the market at a time when appropriate fill can be restored to the animal or delivery close enough to sale time to keep shrink at a minimum.

When the animals are handled and managed properly by the producer and the sale facility, shrink can be held to 0% to 3%. On a 550-pound animal, this can amount to as much as 35 pounds given up in the marketing system.

Even in times of excellent cattle prices, we should do our best to optimize the income we receive from our cattle. Managing shrink is one of those practices.

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