If corn silage isn’t packed correctly, shrink losses can exceed 15%1. Last year, a Nebraska feedyard owner lowered his shrink losses to 5% by taking some key steps during packing and feed-out.
Since 2010, Jake Wolfinger has owned and operated 4 Plus Feeders near Lexington, Neb., with his business partner and nutritionist, Jeremy Martin. They feed out about 5,000 head of cattle annually. During the winter, they run about 1,000 head of calves in cornstalks.
“We buy all of our silage from neighboring farmers and are scheduled to put up just over 7,000 tons of silage this year,” said Wolfinger. “Calves are bought and arrive in the feedyard in the fall, so we use more silage through the winter months because we have lighter-weight cattle then. The silage will be fed up by June or July, and the reason we like that is we really feel like we can control our shrink by not having silage in a pile through summer. As a farmer feeder, tracking shrink is a number one driver for us.”
Shrinking Your Losses
“In a perfect world, we want the corn silage cut at 65% moisture, but I trust that to our custom cutter and the farmer,” he said. “Once it arrives, I have a neighbor who owns two dozers, so he and I get it in and get it packed fast and efficiently. That is one piece of the equation that I make sure to get my hands on as an owner and operator. What we typically do is run both dozers, they’re front-wheel-assist tractors and we’ve got weights hanging on them. Then we run one other bigger front-wheel-assist tractor on the pile that does nothing but just drive.”
He’s not sure what the magic formula is but is convinced that you can’t pack silage enough. Producers tend to just get a “feel” for it when they’re on a pile. Building a silage pile and getting it packed correctly is a true art form. When the silage is packed correctly, you’ve set the silage up for a good fermentation, he said.
Another step Wolfinger takes to reduce shrink is to only remove the silage off the face of the pile that is needed for the day.
“My guys who are running feed trucks and mixing the feed are trained to minimize fracturing the pile with a loader,” he said. “We try to drag the face of the pile down. We also use a service from the company that covers our pile; they help manage the pile for us and come every week to uncover what we need and pick the tires up, which helps a lot.”
Challenges to Making Quality Silage
The toughest part of making silage is three to four days of making sure everything’s right, because you only get one shot to get it right, Wolfinger said. A big part of that is scheduling the custom cutter.
“It’s a scheduling game, and luckily, we’ve got a cutter that’s local who chops for mostly local farmers, so we communicate a lot and all work together,” he said. “It’s a challenge but everyone we work with wants to help put up a good product and we appreciate that.”
Corn Silage in the Ration
The feedyard uses two different programs for growing calves:
Grow Ration – The first 90 days a calf is in the yard, the goal is for them to gain a little more than 2 pounds per day to grow their basic frame and stay healthy. By using a limit-fed ration, it means they are fed about 2.5% of their diet using corn silage, which is a higher-quality feed.
Finish Ration – During the finishing phase, corn silage offers feed with just a little bit more roughage than you’d like in a finisher ration because of the nutritional value of silage. The goal here is to ensure the cattle gain efficiently, so you’re always pushing the limit to use as little roughage as possible. Because silage is a higher-quality feed, it allows for a little higher bump in roughage for finishers while still getting the same performance with fewer gut problems in the cattle.
“My grandfather taught me that high-quality feed will produce high-quality cattle, and that’s why corn silage fits really well into our ration,” he said.
1 Borreani, B., E. Tabacco, R. J. Schmidt, B. J. Holmes, and R. E. Muck. 2018. Silage review: Factors affecting dry matter and quality losses in silages. J. Dairy Sci. 101(5):3952-3980.