What is a reasonable value to place on your forage inventory? A dairy producer recently pointed out the value of his stored forages each year is worth more than the cost to build another freestall barn.

Wow! That unique perspective illustrates how additional storage planning could benefit your overall bottom line.

We can also look at stored forage value from the cow’s perspective. One area of nutrition that continually amazes me is what happens when you transition from one bunker or pile to another.

Before you can get an accurate forage sample – and you have only adjusted for the new forage’s dry matter content – your cows have gone up or down several pounds of milk. Unfortunately, by the time the forage is analyzed, you are really just confirming what the cows have already demonstrated.

When cows respond positively to a new forage, it’s rewarding to see the results of the hard work you put into harvesting and storing quality forages in a timely manner. But what about the times when your herd does not respond well or develops health issues as a result of a pile or bunker not stored in an ideal manner?


With the everyday demands of running a successful dairy and family life, it’s easy to take for granted the decision of where to place the next cutting of haylage, small-grain silage or the upcoming year’s worth of corn silage.

When considering your farm’s risk management, how many times do you feed to the end of a bunker, the “toe” of a pile, or the end of a bag and notice your cows go down in milk and several cows have digestive upsets that need to be treated? To be blunt, lost milk and sick cows are a risk and a headache you could do without.

The question now becomes: “How can I reduce risk by improving the way my forage is stored?”

Here are a few ideas I’ve seen dairy producers use to successfully answer this question:

  1. With a long-term view on potential expansion, decide how much concrete is needed to store additional tons of forage properly.

  2. Add gravel bags at the edges of your pile or bunker to effectively seal the more vulnerable area of your forage.

  3. Use a flexible and strong oxygen-barrier plastic below your normal top layer of plastic to reduce shrink and, in most cases, eliminate spoiled forage.

  4. If you are rained out in the middle of chopping, temporarily cover your silage. Yes, you will be an unpopular employer for a couple days. However, your cows will thank you when that black line of spoilage is eliminated.

  5. Consider chopping 24 hours a day to reduce shrink, reduce the chance of a weather delay and drive a more efficient fermentation. This may require extra employees, or your custom harvester may not be able to accommodate this schedule. However, the improvement in fermentation and subsequent forage quality from this method can be outstanding.

Layers can work

When the above ideas are implemented, the result will be less space needed to store your investment in forage. But as we all know, sometimes things don’t go as planned.

For example, after evaluating the layout of your operation, have you noticed manure lagoons and silage bunkers or piles are fighting for space? How many times do you consider pouring more concrete for your forage and realize the manure storage is adjusting your plans?

Practically speaking, especially when the budget will not allow more concrete, how can you store more forage with the space you currently have?

One unconventional idea is this: Store separate cuttings of forage on top of each other. You may ask, “What about feedout? How do you keep two forages separate?”

I have actually seen this work many times. With face shavers, two separate forages can be blended with good results for the cows. If I have to decide between storing one cutting of haylage or extra corn silage on dirt versus stacking the forages, I always opt for stacking the forages. Dirt and mud mixed with fermented forages frequently end up as a herd health hazard.

Pack smart

I have calculated packing densities for dairy producers for many years and have learned quite a few lessons about achieving greater densities to reduce shrink. This too helps you store forages in the most efficient way.

One year, a producer decided to use as many packing tractors on the pile as possible. It was a giant traffic jam. The results weren’t great because, individually, none of the tractors had enough weight. The following season, our strategy was fewer tractors and greater weight per axle.

This strategy resulted in a much higher packing density and a reasonable traffic pattern both on and off the pile. This leads us to the next consideration – safety.

Always prioritize safety

Another long-term planning necessity is the traffic pattern. Has your silage pile ever ended up close to the commodity shed or the storage bins? Mixer wagons and delivery trucks can easily back into each other when space is too tight for safe maneuvering.

To avoid this, estimate the number of tons you will chop and then ask your forage consultant or nutritionist to calculate the necessary height of your pile to fit the crop on the desired footprint. Of course, you can reach the point where the height of the pile is no longer safe.

Also consider your team’s safety during the chopping season. Are the driveways wide enough for trucks to pass each other without the risk of tipping into the ditch?

Putting safety at the forefront, exercising proper silage pile footprint planning and selecting the right packing equipment can go a long way in reducing the amount of concrete needed to store your precious investment in forage.

As you look to the first crop just around the corner, make the plans that will ensure the most important ingredients go to your cows.  end mark

Bryan Knoper