Grain growers have discovered plastic bags offer some significant benefits when it comes to storing cereals and oilseeds, but now dairy producers and others who count on feeding top-quality silage to cattle are finding storing it in bags may also be the best and cheapest option.
“In general, it (the silage quality) can be almost as good as when storing it in an oxygen-limiting silo,” says Dr. David Christensen, professor emeritus at the University of Saskatchewan. And buying bags is a lot less expensive than constructing a silo.
Christensen adds that bags even offer an advantage over bunker storage. “There’s good evidence that the silage bag losses are not much more than six or eight per cent compared to anywhere from 12 to 25 with a bunker,” he says. “The main factor with well-filled, well-packed bags means there’s very little mould.”
Normand Bosc, a producer from Notre Dame de Lourdes, Man., has been using bagged silage on his farm, and he too has noticed an improvement in the quality of the silage stored in them compared to bunkers. “I don’t have to fight mould,” he says. And emptying them is easier than a bunker. “You don’t get dirt mixed in on the bottom,” A problem he has noticed when removing feed from bunkers with a tractor and front-end loader. “It’s good feed.”
Christensen says when using a bunker-storage system, it’s necessary to remove at least six inches or more of material from the open end of the pile each day to avoid leading- edge spoilage. “It comes down to feed-out rate,” he notes. But with the width of many large bunker storage piles, that may not always be possible. With bags, however, keeping the leading edge material fresh is easier.
That was one of the reasons the Simon family opted for bagging silage on their dairy farm, which is also near Notre Dame de Lourdes. “It’s consistent quality feed,” says Michel Simon; and it stays that way for a long time. “It keeps for two years, at least,” he adds. That is due to the ability of the bags to prevent oxygen infiltration.
Christensen says the plastic covering commonly used on bunker piles does allow some oxygen to get at the feed. “The standard black underside, white plastic is not oxygen proof,” he says. But he notes newer oxygen barrier wrap now on the market does offer an improved seal. “It’s a great deal different, It has somewhere in the region of one-tenth to one-twentieth of the oxygen permeability (of black plastic).”
Christensen says some silage-storage bags are now available in widths up to 14 feet, which gives them a capacity as great as some silos on a per-foot basis. So even large-scale producers can get the amount of storage they need with a bagging system. “It’s basically the same size as some of the older tower silos,” he says.
But as with bagging grain, a machine is required to pack the silage into bags, and getting a custom harvester with the capability to do the job exactly when needed can be a problem. “That’s one of the reasons for the last year or two we’ve gone to piles on concrete as much as we can,” Christensen says of feed storage at the university farm. “In the Saskatoon area, at least, there is a limited number of people you can get to do the bagging.”
For the Simon family, that hasn’t been a problem. There is a custom ensilaging contractor in their area that has provided them with timely service. And Michel Simon believes hiring someone to do the job makes more sense than trying to do it themselves. “You have to look at how much time it would take us to do that,” he says. Having a contractor handle feed harvesting means the family members are free to take care of the daily milking operation without hiring more manpower.
Christensen says anyone planning to store silage in bags should target the same harvesting standards as when planning to store it in a bunker. “The chop length is important. It has to be not much more than the 3/8-inch theoretical cut and the moisture needs to be about 60 per cent.” And he notes there are good quality additives that can get the pH level of the silage down quickly, which helps maintain feed quality.
Getting comparable feed quality from a bunker storage system is possible, notes Christensen, but it takes more management effort. All of which means the bags make things easier for farmers.
But the most important reason to consider bagging silage may be the chance to get feed storage capability comparable to an expensive silo without the mammoth investment. “You work hard to make good feed,” notes Normand Bosc. “So you want to keep it that way.”
ScottGarveyisthemachineryeditorfor Grainews.Contacthimat [email protected]