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Minimize stored forage losses

Forage losses at harvest, storage and feeding can be as much as 20%. This is of course a huge inefficiency for producers and can have a large impact on farm profitability. Since forage has already been put up for the year let’s focus on things that we can do now to help reduce losses.

Forage losses are mostly due to poor handling and storage processes and microbial deterioration.

Most forage losses through handling and storage can be seen as forage that is on the ground or lying around on machinery. Microbial losses can be much harder to see and often times go unnoticed. Many of these types of losses are due to insufficient packing density allowing oxygen to remain in the silage, or improper coverage exposing the silage to oxygen and air.

Here are some things to be thinking about when looking to prevent forage losses.

Proper maintenance of storage facilities 

Check and maintain walls, doors and ceilings of silos regularly to help minimize air exchange and keep precipitation from entering the silo through cracks in concrete and around doors.

One sign that your silo may need maintenance is spoilage around doors and walls. If spoilage steadily increases from year to year, your silo may need maintenance even if cracks are not visible.

Proper maintenance of plastic 

Silo bags, bunkers and piles all rely on plastic to exclude air and precipitation from the silage. Punctures in this plastic can happen due to a variety of causes including people, animals and weather. Punctures will let air and water in which will cause losses.

  • Store silage bags away from areas that increase the likelihood of punctures.
  • Be careful when operating equipment near the bag to keep from puncturing it.
  • Bags should be inspected weekly and holes repaired with tape provided by the bag distributor. This tape should have low oxygen permeability.

For plastic covering bunkers and piles, the thicker the plastic the more resistant to tears and oxygen infiltration.

  • Seal plastic coverings tightly to the silage surface.
  • Slope appropriately to drain water away from entry points into the silage.
  • Make sure coverings are free of tears and holes. Inspect every week and repair with oxygen excluding tape.

Proper feed removal 

  • When removing feed from storage leave a smooth, undisturbed surface. Leaving a rough, disturbed surface will cause higher losses.
  • Both dry matter density and feed out rate influence the amount of air exposure. Dry matter losses decrease as silage density increases or as feeding rate increases.
  • Even though increased feeding out rates can reduce losses, remove only the quantity needed for the current feeding.
  • Silage exposed to outside air for an extended period of time will deteriorate faster. Roll back silage covers on bunkers and piles for no more than 3 days’ worth of feeding at a time. This is similar for silo bags as the feed out face should be kept as tight as possible with minimal losses left around the bag.
  • Silo bags, bunkers and piles should be placed on a surface that allows for feed removal without having to operate in mud. Whatever the removal practice, it needs to leave the silage feed out face tight and smooth.

For more information on this topic, see Preserving the value of stored hay and Wrapping hay.

Nathan Drewitz is an Extension educator in agriculture production systems in Benton County

Related topics: Beef news Dairy News
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