Right-sizing your feed pad

Posted on December 7, 2023 in Dairy Performance
By Jon Rasmussen, Vita Plus, dairy technology specialist

Each year, we should review and assess the good and bad of our feed storage.  While farms may “break the rules” of forage storage every now and then, the goal should always be to SAFELY store forages with nearly zero oxygen exposure.  If you find yourself frequently breaking the rules, it might be time to resize your feed pad.  Following are four rules to help you in the planning process.

If building a feed pad from scratch, we need to determine how many animals will be fed currently and in the next few years and how much feed those animals will need.  We will want at least some carryover from one harvest to the next.  When targeting three months of corn silage carryover inventory, the pad will need to fit 15 months’ worth of forage.

Pile size should be designed for a maximum slope of 35%.  We often see the need to increase the height of a pile to fit a crop on an existing storage pad. In most cases, with slopes greater than 35%, we see spoilage in the top foot of the forage that should be discarded or animal performance is likely to suffer.  This is due to the tractors sliding or shearing the very top of the pile as they pack.

Another aspect crucial to minimizing shearing is to provide a 15-foot work area around the pile to successfully drive the pack tractors off the pile as they change direction.  Consider every time the wheels of the tractor change direction; the top layer of forage will shear away from the denser layer beneath it.  This work area also is useful when moving tires, sealing the edges of the plastic with screenings or gravel bags, and moving equipment around the piles.

Daily removal
The general industry recommendation is to remove one foot of feed per day.  When accounting for 35% slopes on each end of a pile with 15 months of feed, the length of the pile alone will project to approximately 485 feet.  Add the 15-foot work area at each end of the pile and the pad ideally would be designed for 515 feet.  If you can manage a feedout rate lower than 1 foot per day with high density and excellent face management, you could possibly manage a shorter pad.

Safety is the most important consideration when sizing a feed pad.  The width of your pad will affect the maximum height of the pile.  Tall piles can be prone to avalanches, especially when the face is taller than the facing equipment can reach.  Opinions vary on the safe height of a pile, and width and slope will affect the safe height.

Take the time to plan
Throughout the years, I’ve had many conversations about sizing feed pads with forage managers.  In the planning process, they often couldn’t believe how much extra space was required.  Those who did plan and build for the extra space were grateful for an area that allowed them to successfully manage their feed supplies without breaking any storage rules.

Category: Dairy Performance
Forage storage and management