Forage storage: Begin with the end in mind
Do you know the value of your stored forages?
At the farm level, it is worth more than the cost to build another freestall barn. At the cow level, it is realized in the fluctuation of her milk production when you switch forages.
When you switch bags or piles and the cows respond positively, you feel good about the time and effort you put into harvest and store the best-quality forage. But what about the times when they don’t respond positively?
To reduce risk of losing milk or causing digestive upsets, carefully consider your forage harvest and storage strategy. Doing so will help you ensure you have the best feed in the right place at the right time. Here are some strategies I’ve seen dairy producers use:
- Add gravel bags at the edges of the pile or bunker to effectively seal the more vulnerable areas of your forage.
- Use a flexible and strong oxygen-barrier plastic below your normal top layer of plastic to reduce shrink and, in most cases, eliminate spoiled forage.
- If you get rained out while chopping, temporarily cover the silage. This may upset some employees, but your cows will thank you for limiting spoilage.
- Consider chopping 24 hours a day.This may require extra employees, but it can help reduce shrink and the chance of weather delays, and drive a more efficient fermentation.
- With a long-term goal for expansion, decide how much concrete is needed to store additional tons of forage properly.
These strategies will reduce space needed to store your investment in forage, but it doesn’t always work that nicely. For less-than-ideal situations, following are a few other things you can do to improve how your forage is stored.
Layers can work
Sometimes it just isn’t feasible to pour more concrete when you are already fighting for space with other structures. One unconventional idea that can work is storing separate cuttings of forage on top of each other.
If you use a face shaver, it can work to blend and feed two separate forages and see good results from your cows. Compared to storing forages on dirt and mud and risking poor herd health, I would opt for stacking the forages.
One of the best ways to reduce shrink and store forages more efficiently is to achieve an optimal packing density. I once knew a producer who put as many packing tractors on the pile as possible, but, individually, none of the tractors had enough weight. The next season, we used fewer tractors with greater weight per axel and achieved a greater packing density and less confusing traffic patterns, leading to greater safety, our next consideration.
Always prioritize safety
If you are expanding or thinking about expanding, consider the traffic patterns of vehicles coming on and off the piles. Mixer wagons and delivery trucks can easily back into each other or other structures when space is too tight for safe maneuvering. It also helps to estimate the number of tons that will come off the field and calculate the necessary height of your pile to fit the crop on the desired footprint. Caution, silage piles can reach a point where the height is no longer safe.
As always, consider the safety of the team. Make sure roads are wide enough for trucks to pass each other without the risk of tipping into a ditch.
Putting safety at the forefront, exercising proper silage pile footprint planning and selecting the right packing equipment can go a long way in reducing the amount of concrete you need to store your precious investment in forage. As you look to the next harvest, plan how you will ensure the most important ingredients make it to your cows.
About the author: Bryan Knoper is a dairy specialist based in central Indiana. He graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in animal science. He has worked as a Vita Plus employee owner since 2003 and is especially interested in helping dairy producers explore unique strategies to harvest and store quality forages.
Feed quality and nutrition
Forage storage and management