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A little shrink is part of the deal, but more can be expensive

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Excessive shrink is devastating to the seller and can be costly to the buyer in terms of animal health.

Cattle become stressed when their environment changes in any way. They are very sensitive to light, movement and sound. So when cattle, especially calves, are exposed to a big change, they will lose weight. This weight loss is called shrink.

There are two kinds of shrink in cattle. Excretory shrinkage is the loss of the contents of the belly, digestive tract and bladder. It usually occurs within the first few hours of movement, transport, or lack of feed or water. It is quickly recovered. Tissue shrinkage is the loss of moisture from the internal organs and muscle tissue. This dehydration takes longer for the animal to recover from and is very costly to the seller. Research has indicated that calves may easily suffer nine per cent shrinkage if not managed appropriately and that shrinkage levels over nine per cent start to cost the buyer in performance and health problems.

Shrinkage can be fuelled by extreme weather conditions, especially heat or long hours of standing or in transit. Young, unweaned calves shrink the fastest due to their diet and the stress of being removed from their mothers. Yearlings on dry feed can tolerate more change and mileage without the weight loss. Feed is important. The more moisture in the feed, the greater the weight loss when handled and in transit. Overfilling cattle in hopes of stopping shrinkage almost always has the opposite effect as the abundance is shot out the south end of the northbound calf.

It is important when considering your handling and sales of cattle to consider reducing shrink. First, expose the cattle to where they will be brought in ahead of time, and if this cannot be done, try to bring cattle in during cool weather in a quiet manner. Sorting at home is always more advantageous than handing over the sort to someone else. Often a longer, quiet sort is better for the cattle than a quick and riotous affair. (It saves on shrink and marriages.)

Loading facilities that are in poor repair are costly as the cattle can often see to the outside. The rays of light are difficult for them to process as they have little depth perception and are very sensitive to any movement they can see. Try to have your sorting and loading facilities in good repair and use a team of folks that knows something about how cattle move and handle, keeping the noise level to a minimum. A little planning goes a long way and it is important to confirm loading times, be patient with the cattle, and load to the appropriate density. Too many or too few cattle on a trailer will result in stress by causing cattle to go down or to walk off a few extra pounds.

A long haul is often necessary considering prairie distances. It is of benefit for you to sell cattle on the farm before they are hauled. In farmgate sales, electronic sales or any sale where the cattle are sold on or near the point of sale without standing or trucking, a pencil shrink will be applied. The pencil shrink covers the expected excretory shrink. It is also used to compensate when cattle are too fleshy or full of tag, such as mud, manure or ice.

A little bit of shrinkage is part of the deal. From the buyer’s perspective, they like to see the calf weigh the same on arrival as the net pay weight. They don’t like to find out that they paid for pounds that are now on the trailer floor. From a seller’s perspective, they want to be paid for actual pounds of animal less the gut fill, as seeen in the table below.

When selling at an auction, it is still best to have a decent sort done ahead of time and the cattle gate loaded on the truck. Steers, heifers and late bloomers are your basic sorts. Always follow your cattle to the point of sale to ensure the correct handling and weighing of the cattle. As with all transactions, the correct paperwork is the key. There is no need for cattle to stand in a pen or on a truck because the paperwork is not correct or someone forgot to call the brand inspector.

Excessive shrink is devastating to the seller and can be costly to the buyer in terms of animal health. It is also the most controllable aspect of livestock marketing. All that you do has an impact on the stress response of the cattle. Webster defines shrink as a “loss in value” which is indeed a most appropriate definition. Do all you can to reduce the shrinkage in your cattle.

About the author

AF Columnist

Brenda Schoepp

Brenda Schoepp works as an international mentor and motivational speaker. She can be contacted through her website at All rights reserved.



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