Dennis Peckman has had 10 years of experience with drive-over silage piles. Obviously, he's sold on this system that offers him storage and feed-out flexibility.
“I can feed out from anywhere on a pile. And I can feed out some silage and use that space for the next crop. I'm making the most of my (storage) area,” says Peckman, who milks 120 cows and feeds 120 heifers just outside of St. Thomas, PA.
Silage piles win out over bunkers, he adds. “The capacity of a walled silo is fixed and never the size you need for the particular crop being harvested.
“But it takes more skill to pile silage than put it in a bunker,” Peckman warns. He offers several “rules” that make silage piling safe and profitable — and keep spoilage to a minimum.
The first is to harvest at the correct maturity, moisture content and length of cut — just as you would if planning to store in bunkers. Then have level asphalt surfaces to build piles on.
“I started with a concrete surface but it pitted with acid from fermentation.” If you're looking for temporary storage, pile on the ground, but know that you'll have mud or stones at load-out to contend with, he says.
Decide on your pile size beforehand to make sure it will fit under one sheet of plastic. “Splices (overlapped sheets) are nearly impossible to seal on a slope,” he says, and sheets are available up to 60 × 1,000'.
The loader tractor must be as heavy as those recommended for packing bunkers and must have rear duals for safety reasons.
As you start your pile, make it 25% more narrow and shorter than the blanket size you plan to use. Pile dimensions will swell as the pile grows.
Trucks should be unloaded at the end of the pile so the silage is leveled by driving lengthwise on it — “just as if there were walls on the sides,” Peckman says.
Again, follow bunker-packing rules. Scatter silage in very thin layers and pack it very tight before adding more silage. Slopes must be packed by driving vertically and at right angles to the pile length. “This is actually an advantage over a bunker, since it results in a tighter pack,” he says.
As the pile rises, keep the top surface very level. “This demands practice and skill by the tractor operator. The pile will always try to crown on top and this will create a dangerous and impossible situation,” Peckman adds.
To avoid that, the tractor operator must drive lengthways on top of the pile — never lengthways on the slope. Slope surfaces should only be driven on vertically and perpendicularly to the length. Trying to pack slopes lengthways actually loosens the pack and is very dangerous, he warns.
As you would with a bunker, cover a pile immediately after packing. “We use stone dust placed continuously along the edge. Placing the stones on the slope tightens the plastic as the pile settles,” he says.
During feed-out, a pile face can be easily shaved by driving the side of the loader bucket at a right angle to the face. “This is hard to do in a narrow-walled bunker,” Peckman says.