FG poll question
Most read Production Basics articles
|0309 PD: Forages: Bunk maintenance, safety and planning for the future|
|Friday, 06 February 2009 07:26|
Good quality forages are the nutritional cornerstone of profitable milk production.
Today’s costs of harvesting and purchasing these crops make spoilage and waste huge, profit-draining problems, not only from direct losses of expensive forage dry matter but also from decreases in animal performance. In this article, we’ll present best practices for reducing spoilage and waste – in other words, what should happen after you’ve put up your haylage and silage into their respective bunkers, piles, bags or silos.
Keeping a lid on wet forages
This most commonly happens at feedout, but too often it also happens when the seal between air and ensiled crop is compromised. Correct any damage to plastic covers or bags as soon as possible by taping up any holes that might have been caused by animals, hail or machinery. Sometimes this damage is so extensive that fixing it requires new plastic sheeting, especially when the damage is caused by hail.
Failure to keep your ensiled crop sealed can turn it into a total write-off, as spoilage becomes so extensive it makes the silage unsafe to feed. Compromised air seals can also occur in upright silos, but they’re less obvious. It can be difficult to pick up on a relatively small amount of spoiled feed coming out of an upright silo. Often, the first signs of this spoilage show up as reduced production or increased somatic cell counts due to mycotoxins. This is frequently accompanied by the silage or haylage “smelling different” but not being associated with a problem.
Smart feeding for better profits
How you remove forage from the feed face is more important than ever. Keeping a smooth feed face is essential to good forage feed management. Simply driving the bucket into the forage face and lifting it out is not acceptable. This practice disrupts the forage several feet back into the pile and introduces oxygen, causing the onset of a secondary fermentation, heating, large dry matter losses and unpalatable, unhealthy feed.
A smooth face is best achieved by angling down the pay loader/skid loader bucket and taking the forage from the top of the pile or bunker and working down the face. This practice minimizes disruption of the forage’s integrity so very little air will infiltrate the pile, keeping secondary fermentation to a minimum. A smooth face can also be achieved by running the bucket sideways across the face of the pile, if space allows, or by specialized forage face ‘managers.’ These are sometimes modified buckets with a hydraulic slicer attachment. Others are flail machines that strip the face evenly but can also have a deleterious effect on particle length, which you should check for.
When bringing feed off the face, keep the feed fresh by removing a minimum of 3 inches in the winter or 6 inches in the summer. Trials have shown that, by taking 6 inches off the face, losses have been kept to around 5 percent while, when less than 5 inches were removed, losses could be more than 10 percent. (I’m sure you’re remembering that $50 a ton price tag just about now!) When removing feed from the face, only take enough feed for one day’s usage, especially in the summer months.
Remember, hot feed is spoiled feed. Trials have shown an almost 40 percent drop in dry matter intake when feed has been exposed for four days. Also, when cutting back the plastic sheet from the top of the face, only remove enough to allow for three days feeding at most. This holds exposure to a minimum. Always re-cover bagged feed as much as possible after feeding.
Always take the time to discard any obviously spoiled forage. This forage from the ‘slime-layer’ of bunks and piles has been demonstrated by Kansas State University trials to destroy the forage mat in the rumen and dramatically reduce fiber digestibility, which reduces dry matter intake, production and milk quality.
Dry matter losses can occur in many other ways, such as overfilling the mixer, overfilling the feedbunk, or poorly maintained feed conveyers on tower silo systems. They all lead to irretrievable feed losses. And don’t let refusals from the milking herd go to waste. Frequently pushing up feed will cut down on refusals, but what is left at the end of the day will be just fine for heifers and far-off dry cows.
Working safely around bunks and piles
Overfilled and too-high bunks and piles also hide less obvious but very deadly hazards once they are being fed out. Deaths from silage ‘avalanches’ occur every year. These can be drastically reduced by not piling your silage too high in the first place but also by the way you handle your feed face. By employing the same feed face management that helps reduce your dry matter losses, as described earlier, you will also keep your bunks and piles more structurally sound and minimize avalanches.
Nevertheless, always post safety notices at the entrance of your piles or bunkers warning of the dangers of entering that area. Nutritionists are acutely aware of the inherent dangers of being at the feed face when taking samples, but it is still not unheard of for them to be killed by several tons of silage crushing or engulfing them. Children, with a propensity for climbing, have no such awareness, so you can’t post enough graphical warning signs!
Looking ahead to spring
Your bunk should be probed at various sites on the face to assess its dry matter packing density. This tells you now if you need to improve on this aspect of your silage-making next year. Probing the face is an easy exercise that will give you great insight into how good a job your packer did last summer, and it could possibly save you thousands of dollars next year.
Now is also the time to consider your options on many other aspects of next year’s forage production, such as seed varieties, inoculants (bacterial, enzyme or both), other additives (oxygen scavenging, acids and anhydrous ammonia), oxygen barrier sheeting and so on. PD
Mike Bettle is a field nutritionist at Form-A-Feed Inc. and TechMix Inc., companies located in Stewart, Minnesota.
See more articles like this at www.progressivedairy.com