Bunker Management Offers Bottom-Line Advantages

By Kevin Putnam, Pioneer Dairy Specialist

While growing conditions determine fiber digestibility, producers can take steps to preserve silage quality after harvest, resulting in better feed for livestock. Preserving forages on both the front and back end of fermentation is key to boosting the bottom line.

Many factors play into nutritive losses at and after harvest. Most important are harvest techniques and overall bunker management (ensiling and feedout). Crop maturity, dry matter at harvest and chop length can affect packing density and fermentation. Knowing field conditions and hybrid maturities helps growers pick the appropriate harvest date. Walk fields and check crop maturity. Harvest is typically 6 to 10 days away when the crop is about 3 to 5 percent wetter than optimal.

After harvest, preserving forage quality depends on keeping out oxygen. The keys are packing density, covering the bunk/pile and feedout management.

Packing density

Experts suggest an average packing density of 15 pounds or better of dry matter per cubic foot. A density of 17 dry matter pounds potentially saves another 1.5 percent dry matter from oxygen penetration. Dry matter loss diminishes carbohydrates like sugar, which must be replaced by an energy source such as cornmeal.

Follow proper packing guidelines: Spreading layers 6 inches or less across the bunk is optimum. Use the rule of 800: Multiply the number of tons coming in each hour by 800 to get the total pounds of tractor-weight for packing.

Cover silage

After filling silos, use plastic to cover the forage. Some producers use tires to secure plastic covers, while others weigh down plastic with gravel bags or use oxygen barrier liners. Using plastic to line bunkers reduces losses along sidewalls.

Without a covering, the top 3 feet of the forage can lose up to 45 percent of its nutritive value. Use this straightforward calculation to estimate shrink losses: Reducing shrink in a 1,000-ton bunker by 5 percent saves 50 tons. If corn silage is worth $45 per ton, a producer can save $2,250 on 1,000 tons.

If replacing energy with cornmeal, the math is slightly more complicated: Fifty tons of corn silage at 34 percent dry matter is 17 dry matter tons. If cornmeal is 86 percent dry matter, this means a producer needs 19.76 tons of cornmeal to replace the lost dry matter. If cornmeal costs $280 per ton, saving 5 percent dry matter can save the producer $5,532.80.

Feedout management

Keep the silage face clean to protect silage quality. Remove forage with equipment that minimizes fractures and oxygen penetration. Don't gouge the face with a front-end loader.

Data shows an average bunker silo loses 15 percent of its dry matter mass during storage and feedout. Good packing, a quality inoculant, appropriate bunker covering and using a defacer can lower losses to 10 percent or less.

Limiting losses

DuPont Pioneer experts use an infrared camera to show the variation of heating throughout the bunker face. Increased heat levels indicate loss of valuable energy.

Inoculants help reduce these losses, and inoculants containing Lactobacillus buchneri help increase bunklife while protecting silage from heating and spoilage by microorganisms. Studies show Pioneer® brand inoculants containing L. buchneri bacteria reduce aerobic dry matter losses, making it an excellent tool to protect quality and maintain feed value in the silage.

Pioneer offers a wide range of inoculant products containing a combination of proprietary L. buchneri strains to increase aerobic stability and improve the quality of silage. Products include 11CFT, 11C33 and 1132 for corn silage; and 11GFT for grass or cereal silage. Pioneer also offers a variety of application technologies designed to work with all major brands of forage harvesting equipment.

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