When storing forages for a herd there's a range of options available, from silo bags to bales. There isn’t a right or wrong choice when choosing a storage option. But improper management of feed in storage will lead to what is known as feed shrink, or the loss of feed.
Feed shrink can come from the loss of feed through harvest, storage and feed out. Because feed cost is usually ranked as the largest expense in animal production, reducing shrink in storage will help decrease the cost of production.
Consider silo bags
The first factor to consider when trying to reduce feed shrink in silo bags is if a producer will be able to remove enough feed from the face of the bag to prevent spoilage. In order to prevent oxygen from permeating into the face of the bag and causing spoilage, at least 12 inches of feed per day needs to be removed. When feeding out of a bag only remove enough plastic for one or two days. If too much plastic is removed feed will be exposed to oxygen, which will lead to spoilage.
The optimal location for a silo bag is on a concrete pad. However that’s not an option that's always practical for every operation. The second-best option is to place the bag on a gravel pad with the surface being dry and well-drained.
Another consideration for the location of the bag is that it be away from trees and brush piles, or any other area that is a habitat for rodents and other wildlife that can become pests. That will help reduce damage to the bag as well as reduce the amount of feed that pests may consume. If damage does occur the bag should be repaired immediately to reduce loss from spoilage and pest consumption. The area around the bags should be kept clean by removing spilled feed, and mowing grass and weeds to further discourage pests.
Properly managing a bag during filling will also help minimize shrink. When harvesting corn silage, moisture of the silage should be between 65 percent and 70 percent to ensure ideal fermentation conditions. If the silage is wetter than 70 percent leaching of silage juices can occur, resulting in a loss of nutrients. Proper filling will also pack the bag tightly, limiting the amount of oxygen in the bag.
Consider silage piles
Many of the same principles apply when using silage piles as when using silo bags. Those include needing a location with a firm dry surface with drainage. Similar to determining if livestock will be fed often enough to keep silage fresh in a bag, producers will need to size piles by height, width and length to ensure they are able to remove enough silage from the face to keep the feed from spoiling. Also only remove as much plastic as needed from the pile.
An added challenge for silage piles is covering the pile with plastic. Plastic should be tight across the pile and sealed along the edges. The plastic should be weighted down on top of the pile. That helps keep the plastic tight to the pile, which limits oxygen from entering the pile. The most frequently used items to weigh down silage plastic are cut tires.
Consider large bales
One of the most popular ways to store forage for beef cattle is in bales. When evaluating storage options for bales, consider if the method of storage will allow for protection against the elements. It's important to limit moisture from entering the bales either from precipitation or from contact with soil. Some options for storage are better than others at preventing shrink, but each will need to be evaluated to determine what fits best in an operation. Covering bales helps reduce loss, but there are several ways for that to be accomplished. The No. 1 storage method is storage under a roof. But that's not always possible, so plastic wraps and sleeves can be utilized as well.
Bale shape is another consideration when trying to reduce shrink in storage. Square bales have the advantage of stacking more compactly and saving space, but round bales allow for water to shed more easily. Depending on the storage situation, either bale shape can work. There are a few other considerations, such as the orientation of the bales. Bales should be oriented north to south. Rows should be 3 feet apart to promote faster drying. Similar to the other storage options, having proper pest management in place and keeping the area around the bales clean will reduce losses.
Visit fyi.extension.wisc.edu/forage for more information.
Kimberly Kassube is the University of Wisconsin-Division of Extension educator for Shawano County.