Sizing up your forage future

Posted on December 17, 2020 in Dairy Performance
By Nathan Hrnicek

One of the most important aspects of running a successful dairy operation is ensuring you have the correct amounts of forages to fulfill the dietary needs of your herd, and one of the defining characteristics of premium forage programs is having the right amount of storage space for those forages.  Specifically, if you are deciding to build a new forage storage site, such as a pile or bunker, it is important to consider the space required for these structures, the amount of forage you need at the present time and in the future, and your desired feedout rate.  Additionally, adding adequate apron space is another component often overlooked.

Let’s start by thinking about feed inventories.  I was recently working with a producer who was designing a pile to specifically meet their annual corn silage needs.  As we examined the plans together, I asked, “How much carryover inventory do you plan to have?”  The color drained from their face and the excitement was gone.  No one had considered the additional space needed to account for their desired four to five months of carryover inventory on corn silage, but this discussion helped prevent a disaster from happening.

Another thing to keep in mind as you think about inventories is what happens when you have an opportunity to put up additional inventory?  Does your current system allow you to do it?  What are the financial implications of putting up more high-quality forages, or what are the financial implications of not being able to?  Also, consider if you have plans in the future to expand.  Even if the extra barn is still years off, don’t design your new forage structure to be in the way of the cows.

Feedout strategy is another instrumental piece of a successful forage program.  Recommended feedout rates will vary based on your climate, but, on average, it is best to shave off a minimum of 12 inches per day in warmer months and 6 inches per day in cooler months.  If your geography doesn’t experience “cooler” months, plan on a year-round minimum feedout rate of 12 inches per day.

When it is time to size the pile, we need to consider the amount of forage we can fit into one cubic foot, with safe slopes, and do some math.  For example, let’s say you want to fit 10,000 tons of corn silage into a pile (including carryover) with a feedout rate of 12 inches per day for six months and 6 inches per day for six months.  At the desired feedout rates, the pile will need to be 320 feet long.  Next, I recommend using a density parameter of 15 pounds per cubic foot and a height of 15 feet to help ensure safety.  Using the formula for volume, we can determine the width at the bottom of the pile will need to be 171 feet.  I would also add 20 feet around the pile for apron space, giving us a pad size of 360 feet by 211 feet.

Do you want to fit more forage in a smaller space?  Increasing packing density not only allows you to fit more feed in a smaller space, but it also helps improve the overall fermentation profile of the forage and saves money.  Click here to read more about achieving a good packing density.

Contact your Vita Plus consultant to learn more about sizing your forage structure to account for the future needs of your production.

This article was written for the October edition of Vita Plus Forage Foundations.  Click here for more forage management expertise.

About the author:  Nathan Hrnicek is a Vita Plus forage consultant, working closely with producers, Vita Plus and dealer staff across the central U.S.  He grew up on his family’s 1,200-acre diversified crop and livestock farm.  He earned his bachelor’s degree in agricultural economics from Purdue University.  Hrnicek built his agronomy and forage expertise through several career experiences in seed sales as well as a sampling laboratory.

Category: Dairy Performance
Facility design
Feed quality and nutrition
Forage harvesting
Forage storage and management