Bunker silo facers can reduce silage dry matter losses. But be sure the potential savings justify the investment, advises Brian Holmes, a University of Wisconsin ag engineer.

Compared with a front-end loader, a facer will leave a smoother face on silage remaining in the bunker, he says. That minimizes exposure to oxygen, which can lead to major losses.

“You can get a reasonably smooth face with a front-end loader if you know how to do it,” says Holmes. “Even then, it's difficult to get the smooth surface you'll likely get with a facer.”

But that doesn't necessarily mean every farm should invest in a facer, he adds. Holmes recently developed a spreadsheet to help producers calculate the break-even cost of switching from a front-end loader to a facer. Some key considerations are:

  • Current bunker management

    If you're already doing a good job of minimizing dry matter losses, switching to a facer might result in only a 1% savings in that area. That's the case if you're harvesting in the 60-70% moisture range, achieving short chop lengths, getting a packing density greater than 16 lbs of dry matter per cubic foot, removing 12" of material/day from the silo face and doing an overall good job of face management.

    In a smaller operation, such as a 100-cow dairy, the 1% savings would make it hard to justify investing in a facer, even if you already have a properly sized power unit on hand.

    A switch to facers for those with poor silage management could lead to a dry matter savings of up to 5%. With those savings, even smaller operations might benefit from an investment in a facer, says Holmes.

  • Existing equipment

    Price tags on facers currently on the market are around $3,500 to $5,000. That's not likely to be a budget buster for most modern livestock feeding operations. But a suitable power unit — typically a skid-steer or telehandler — is needed to power a facer.

    “You might already have a skid-steer on hand, but there could be limitations on how far up on the face of the bunker/pile you'll be able to reach with the skid-steer-powered facer,” notes Holmes. “If you have to buy a whole new power unit to go with the facer, your break-even cost will be much higher.”

  • Time savings

    Whether or not using a facer can save time during feeding can vary widely among farms. If using a facer allows you to save just 5 minutes per feeding on a twice-a-day schedule, the savings in labor, fuel and equipment wear can be significant over a year's time.

In some operations, though, converting to a facer might actually add to feeding times and cause labor, fuel and equipment costs to rise. For that reason, Holmes recommends that producers ask dealers to do on-farm facer demonstrations before plunking down any cash.

“It will give you a better idea of whether using a facer is likely to take more or less time than your current practice,” he says.

To run your own numbers on the break-even cost of investing in a bunker silo facer, check out Holmes' spreadsheet at www.uwex.edu/ces/crops/uwforage/storage.htm. Click on storage economics.

BUNKER FACER BREAK-EVEN COSTS1

Increased DM Loss Using Front-end Loader (%) Quantity Stored (Tons DM)
820 2,050 4,100 6,150 8,200
No. of Cows with Heifers
100 250 500 750 1,000
Break-Even Investment ($)
0.5 2,278 5,694 11,389 17,083 22,778
1 4,556 11,389 22,778 34,167 45,556
2 9,111 22,778 45,556 68,333 91,111
3 13,667 34,167 68,333 102,500 136,667
4 18,222 45,556 91,111 136,667 182,222
5 22,778 56,944 113,889 170,833 227,778
1Figures assume that no additional time is required by the facer for forage removal compared to a front-end loader.
SOURCE: BRIAN HOLMES