Build silage piles correctly

Jim Dickrell
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With large crops of forages coming off fields this fall in many areas, some farmers might be storing silage in piles for the first time.

Constructing these piles correctly spells the difference between having good quality forage or a spoiled mess, says Jerry Clark, an Extension soil and water educator in Chippewa County, Wis.

“Without proper packing, silage losses can easily exceed 30% of ensiled dry matter,” he says. “With proper management, silage piles serve as a short-term storage option with dry matter losses as low as 15%.”

The first step is to construct storage piles on a solid, well-drained surface. Concrete or asphalt slabs are preferred. Barring that, well packed surfaces underlain by geotextile fabric can work. The pads should be constructed above existing ground level to ensure rainfall and silage seepage runoff, Clark says.

“To ensure well safety and prevent water contamination, silage piles should be at least 100' away and down slope from any existing well,” he adds. “On lighter soils, or with shallow well depths, this distance should be even greater.”

Piles should be constructed using the wedge method, with a 3:1 maximum side slope for safety. “Systems that have steep side slopes will [also] have inadequate sideslope packing and appreciably higher silage losses on the side,” Clark explains.

Forages should be added to the pile in thin layers no more than 6" in depth. Forage moisture should be at least 65% to 70% at ensiling to improve packing.

“When constructing the pile, plan for at least 12" of feed removal per day,” he says. Such a feed out rate is needed to minimize spoilage, though lower rates can be removed during cold weather.

“Therefore, when planning for a 270-day (nine month) feed storage period, the length of all piles should add up to 270' long.”

Piles should also be covered as soon after the pile is completed as possible A 6-mil black plastic sheet should be used, weighted down with tires over the entire surface, and sealed along the sides of pile.

Build silage piles correctly