Keeping feed shrink to a minimum on a dairy is always sound strategy, but especially so when feed prices skyrocket (last year) or milk prices tank (this year). A totally enclosed commodity shed is a big part of 400-cow S & B Dairy's strategy to head off losses.

Before the 100 × 120', all-steel structure was built two years ago, commodities at S & B were either stored outside or in open-sided hay sheds, says Ed Schumacher, who heads up a family management team that includes his wife, Kay; sister, Angie; and Angie's husband, Dean Bloemer, near Sigel, IL.

“If we got a good rain or a heavy snow, we could count on losing some feed to spoilage,” Schumacher says. “We were also doing all of our feed mixing outside. When we were dumping feed into the mixer on windy days, we'd see a lot of dollars just blowing away.”

A recessed feed mixing area is the most eye-catching feature of the new structure. It's designed so the top of the feed mixer sits nearly level with the surface of the main concrete floor.

“This way, the person working the loader can look right down into the mixer,” explains Bloemer, who manages the feeding program. “That's a definite plus.”

Homegrown forages — haylage and corn silage — are stored in silage bags on a pad just outside the commodity shed. All other feeds, including dry hay, are stored in the new building.

“All of our TMR mixing, premixing and hay grinding are done completely out of the elements this way,” adds Bloemer. “It's great for whoever is doing the mixing. They're inside, out of the wind, and the lights are on regardless of the time of day. In that kind of environment, they're going to do a better job.”

Other design features include:

  • Individual commodity bins. Portable walls on the half-dozen bins in the building can be adjusted to accommodate larger or smaller supplies of individual ingredients.
  • High sidewalls. With 40' eaves, the building is high enough to allow a semi truck to dump an entire load of feed with the doors of the building closed.
  • Ample room for storing dry hay and straw. Keeping several kinds of hay in the same building where the mixing is done makes it easier to keep track of inventories. The setup also promotes cleanliness.

“In most hay sheds, you have a lot of chaff and waste from handling the hay and dirt building up from equipment going in and out,” notes Sean Sherrod, a Vita Plus nutritionist working with the dairy.

“Dirt is not an ingredient you want in the ration. And in this building you don't get that. There isn't any waste. With the concrete floor, any of the leaves that fall off when the hay is moved can be scraped into the mixer with a skidsteer. The floor is extremely clean at all times. Sometimes you walk into the building and it's almost hard to believe they mix feed in there. It's that clean.”

Schumacher acknowledges that this kind of building will cost “a little” more than a traditional “half building” commodity shed. “But we see it as a long-term investment. Any time you reduce shrink, you're improving your bottom line. It might not seem like that big of a deal day to day. But over time, it definitely adds up.”

Sherrod was skeptical when Schumacher and Bloemer first told him about their plans for the building.

“It was a large investment,” he says. “A commodity shed is not like a freestall barn where you know it's going to produce income right away. This is an overhead cost. But Ed and Dean stuck to their guns. Looking back on it, this was a very good decision.”