With this year’s high feed values, dairy producers can lower ration costs big time by reducing forage losses during harvest, storage and feeding, says Brian Holmes, a University of Wisconsin ag engineer. He says a recent analysis compared good and fair management practices for a 100-cow herd where alfalfa and corn silage were fed to lactating cows, dry cows and most heifers based on their needs. Corn silage, valued at $125/ton of dry matter, represented 55% of the whole-herd forage diet. The remaining forage, alfalfa silage, was valued at $150/ton of dry matter.

The annual dry matter losses with good and fair management were $24,160 and $41,031, respectively, a $16,871 difference. Holmes says producers can move from fair to good forage management by adopting these practices:

  • Properly adjust equipment, minimize hay handling operations and harvest at the recommended moisture content of 60-65% for alfalfa silage and 65-70% for corn silage.
  • Fill silos as quickly as possible.
  • Pack bunkers, piles and bags densely during filling.
  • During feed-out, remove at least 6” from the silage face daily and keep the face smooth and without fissures.
  • Deliver the correct amount of feed to the mixer wagon and don’t spill.
  • Monitor feed bunks closely and adjust the amount delivered to minimize refusal.
To learn more about proper forage harvest, storage and feed-out, see the many articles and spreadsheets at the University of Wisconsin-Extension Team Forage Web site at www.uwex.edu/ces/crops/uwforage/storage.htm. Or visit past articles on aspects of bunker management: Superior Silage, Extra Packing Pays, Packing Properly? and Shave Silage Losses .