Farm Progress

Here are four management tips to help reduce silage shrink.

Mindy Ward, Editor, Missouri Ruralist

July 28, 2017

2 Min Read
PUTTING UP SILAGE: The time to think about reducing silage shrink is when the field is harvested. Farmers should focus on managing harvest and storage conditions.jtyler/iStock/Thinstock

Shrink. It is one of those problems farmers wrestle with, once the silage is in storage. However, Caley Heiman says focusing on silage management at harvest can help reduce shrink.

Silage shrink in dairy operations can range from 15% to 25%, says the Alltech regional sales manager. "This level of shrink can equate to a loss of 15 to 25 cents for every dollar invested in putting the silage up," Heiman says.

Shrink happens
The largest amount of shrink and reduction in quality seems to occur at the top of the silage pile, says Heiman. This area typically is not packed tight enough. It's also exposed to the most oxygen. The combination allows oxygen to penetrate the silage easily, creating an environment for molds and yeast. The end result — spoilage.

"Generally, top spoilage represents about one-third of what was once good silage," he explains. "For example, 4 inches of top spoilage was originally 12 inches or 1 foot of quality silage." Heiman says that farmers should not feed this spoiled silage, as it can cause health and production problems in cows. This area should be the main focus of management, however, according to Heiman.

Management works
Here are Heiman's four tips to help reduce silage shrink:

1. Pack tight. Silage packing density should be 15 pounds DM/foot³ or more. Typically, one pack tractor to one harvester will achieve 15 pounds DM/foot³.

2. Plan before packing. Design piles to allow for more packing on the side or shoulder of the pile.

3. Protect the product. Use a temporary cover overnight or in between any breaks in silage harvest. Use a mold inhibitor on the silage surface prior to covering. Cover the pile as quickly as possible once harvest is complete.

4. Keep oxygen out. 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 the oxygen exposure of the silage.

Heiman says these steps will help improve the quality of silage. Higher-quality silage with lower shrink will benefit your bottom line, he says.

"Given that silage is a major component of the cow's diet and impacts the types and amounts of other ingredients in the diet, taking steps to improve silage management practices and specifically focusing on reducing top spoilage can have a big impact on reducing silage shrink and improving quality," Heiman adds. "There is a lot of money invested in putting up silage, so it is crucial to make sure that it is put up correctly to minimize shrink, retain nutrients and ultimately preserve that investment."

About the Author(s)

Mindy Ward

Editor, Missouri Ruralist

Mindy resides on a small farm just outside of Holstein, Mo, about 80 miles southwest of St. Louis.

After graduating from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural journalism, she worked briefly at a public relations firm in Kansas City. Her husband’s career led the couple north to Minnesota.

There, she reported on large-scale production of corn, soybeans, sugar beets, and dairy, as well as, biofuels for The Land. After 10 years, the couple returned to Missouri and she began covering agriculture in the Show-Me State.

“In all my 15 years of writing about agriculture, I have found some of the most progressive thinkers are farmers,” she says. “They are constantly searching for ways to do more with less, improve their land and leave their legacy to the next generation.”

Mindy and her husband, Stacy, together with their daughters, Elisa and Cassidy, operate Showtime Farms in southern Warren County. The family spends a great deal of time caring for and showing Dorset, Oxford and crossbred sheep.

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