It’s simple math — but a hard-learned lesson: Many dairy farms still lose 15% to 25% or more of silage between the bunker and the feed bunk. And that’s not even counting milk production losses attributable to poor feed quality.
You invest a tremendous amount from growing the crop to storing it, says Caley Heiman, Alltech western regional sales manager. Yet 15% to 25% shrink equates to a loss of 15 to 25 cents for every dollar invested in putting the silage up.
The largest amount of shrink and quality reduction seems to occur at the top of the silage pile, Heiman adds. This part of the pile is the worst in terms of packing density. It’s also exposed to the most oxygen, creating an environment for molds and yeast to multiply and spoil feed value.
5 tips for packing a better pile
Packing silage is much like piecing a puzzle together. The key “pieces” include harvesting at the correct maturity and moisture, proper packing, excluding oxygen and managing the face at feedout. Packing density and excluding oxygen are most important to minimizing top spoilage that claims about 1 foot of silage quality — the “biological meltdown” of that top 4 inches of the pile.
“It’s best to not feed that spoiled portion,” asserts Heiman, “to minimize the risk of costly health and production challenges.” Here are his tips for cost-effective silage management:
• Silage packing density should be 15 pounds per cubic foot or more. Typically, a ratio of one pack tractor to one harvester will achieve about that density.
• Design piles to allow for more packing on their sides or shoulders.
• Use a temporary cover overnight or in between any harvest breaks.
• Utilize a mold inhibitor on the silage surface before covering.
• Cover the pile as quickly as possible once harvest is complete.
• Seal plastic edges and seams with gravel bags or dirt to prevent airflow under the plastic.
• Only unseal what you need for the day to limit oxygen exposure of the silage.