Air is the unseen, pervasive enemy of silage. After carefully growing and ensiling forage, growers can still experience substantial dry matter (DM) losses through mismanagement of the silo face. Each time silage is exposed to air, yeasts that have survived the ensiling process can begin to grow and initiate aerobic spoilage.
These avoidable DM losses can have a significant effect on the bottom line. For example, 1,000 tons of bunk silage at 35% DM with a 10% DM loss overall will lose 35 tons of silage DM. This lost feed is worth around $5,000 on a lost DM basis, but actually is even more valuable since the most digestible, highest value nutrients are lost first. This loss of nutrients means producers will likely need to purchase additional feed to compensate.
Managing the silo face during feedout is an important factor in the the overall stability of the feed and can help avoid unnecessary oxygen exposure. Tips to managing the silage face effectively include:
- Use a block cutter/defacer. Using a bucket to "knock silage down" will loosen the silage behind the face, allowing air to penetrate. This can lead to increased yeast activity, greater DM and feed value losses, and enhance the probability of heating. On the other hand, using a defacer, or a block cutter, or "shaving" the face from side to side will minimize the penetration of air into the silage.
- Keep the pile face tidy. Maintaining a flat bunker face reduces the area exposed to air and avoids dangerous silage overhangs that can fall and cause injury.
- Only remove silage to be fed at a single feeding. Avoid leaving silage sitting in piles: these can quickly become compost heaps!.
- Discard spoiled silage. Feeding moldy silage can result in health problems for the herd and even production losses.
Additionally, consider including an inoculant during ensiling that is proven to help increases the stability of the silage at feedout. Some inoculant strains, like Lactobacillus buchneri 40788, when used as directed can improve feed-out stability and reduce spoilage. With good face management techniques and a proven inoculant, producers can help prevent DM losses and improve profitability.