Silage safety, shrink, and methods to control losses

There are two main issues producers can control to improve their silage program:

  1. Reducing shrink loss, which will reduce the cost of feeding a ton of silage bottom-line benefits
  2. Ensure worker safety, so that everyone goes home safe at the end of the day

As an industry, we put up 165 million tons of total silage in 2015. However, our shrink loss is about 16 to 18 percent. That’s a significant loss that could be reduced by achieving a higher packing density, using a research-proven inoculant, applying an effective seal and ensuring a more efficient feedout. In fact, I think losses could be reduced by as much as 5 to 7 percentage points in most beef cattle operations.

To increase density, I encourage producers to use spreadsheet software that allows them to input the ton per hour delivery rate to the bunker or pile, the number of tractors and the estimated tractor weights. This predicts the density ahead of time. If the prediction is below the desired density of 15 to 16 lbs of dry matter per cubic foot, producers can add additional tractor weight.

Using a proven inoculant is another way to reduce losses. When choosing an inoculant, producers should look for independent research validating the product will reduce shrink. There are lots of inoculants out there, and the most effective ones have data to support claims.

Next, producers should apply a more effective seal to the surface of bunkers and piles. As an industry, we haven’t done a very good job of this. Some beef operations still do not seal their bunkers or piles at all. Today, we have oxygen barrier film technology that allows us to reduce losses in the outer three feet to as low as 12 to 14 percent of the crop ensiled.

Fourth, we should manage feedout and delivery better to help reduce shrink loss. What you might have read in textbooks about theoretical removal rates is probably wrong. In the summertime, we like to see a 12- to 18-inch removal rate. We want to minimize the time silage is exposed to oxygen from the time it’s removed from the feedout face until the time the cattle clean up the ration in the bunk.

Finally, the most important issue in all silage programs is safety. If everyone’s not coming home safe at the end of the day, nothing else really matters.

In conjunction with Lallemand Animal Nutrition, I’ve developed a 17-minute safety video to help producers understand and implement safety in their silage program. This video, along with other safety resources, are available in English and Spanish and are free for producers. All materials can be requested by contacting [email protected].

To hear Dr. Bolsen’s full presentation, visit to watch the video, listen to a summary or read the 2016 Husker Corn Silage Conference proceedings. The conference was sponsored by Lallemand Animal Nutrition, the University of Nebraska Extension and the Iowa Beef Center.