Maximizing dairy production with bagged silage

Courtesy photo

For dairy farmers, “good feed promotes good production” is a guiding principle that has a direct cause-and-effect impact on milk tank volume. As a result, providing the highest quality feed is crucial and significantly affects a dairy’s bottom line, surpassing any other operational change in terms of expense. 

“You can see an immediate increase in production with better feed,” says Kyle Rauls of Rauls Dairy, in DeForest, Wisconsin. “If you get into a better feed, [the cows] start milking better within days. If the feed is moldy, some cows will go off the feed and drop weight on milk.”

Given the importance, experienced dairy farmers closely monitor milk production and herd health daily to assess the effectiveness of the feed and make any needed adjustments to the Total Mixed Ration.

The process typically involves creating on-farm silage and mixing it in appropriate proportions into the TMR along with other additives. As a home-grown food source, silage is a cost-effective and sustainable way to provide dairy cattle with many of the nutrients and calories they need to stay healthy and productive.

Silage bagging also plays a role in helping reduce the emission of volatile organic compounds associated with dairy farming practices. By minimizing open face exposure to the environment and reducing spoilage, silage bagging can assist in meeting potentially stricter EPA regulations expected in the near future.

Silage waste

One of the main obstacles in producing silage using conventional methods like piles, pits, and bunkers is the considerable risk of spoilage and loss, which can amount to as much as 30%.

The problem with these conventional methods is the excessive exposure to oxygen, which leads to rapid deterioration of silage. Proper packing of silage is crucial to effectively preserve it. Insufficient packing, which fails to minimize oxygen exposure, can result in spoilage of ensiled dry matter, and lead to feed loss.

With silage bagging, the oxygen is removed almost instantly, and fermentation begins promptly. The sealed bags protect silage quality and maintain favorable fermentation conditions even amid unfavorable conditions such as exposure to rain, moisture, excessive dryness, or prolonged storage. 

The result is higher nutrient retention per acre, increased milk production, enhanced dairy cow health, reduced veterinary costs, and improved efficiency. Additionally, bagging enables better crop separation and the development of improved feed rations for cows.

“Large piles [in pits and bunkers] constantly degrade over time due to oxygen exposure. In contrast, airtight bagging encloses the silage, leaving only a small area open. This stops the continual degradation of feed quality and ensures optimal freshness and longevity,” says Steve Cullen, president, Astoria, Oregon-based Versa Corporation, a global leader in agricultural silage bagging and handling.

Proper silage bagging

According to Rauls, his dairy originally turned to silage bagging in the 1990s to improve the quality of the feed for his herd and to prevent spoilage. 

Today, Rauls creates corn silage, haylage, and ryelage utilizing silage bags for his farm. The silage is then mixed with proteins, minerals, and other feed additives into their TMR. 

The convenience of using individual bags enables dairy farmers like Rauls, as well as nutritionists, to mark bags for identification, facilitating balanced rations and more accurate dry matter intake. With this approach, a separate TMR can be developed for different animal groups such as for fresh cows, early lactation cows, mid-and late-lactation cows, and far-off and close-up dry cows.

Over the years, Rauls has honed his silage bagging process, gradually transitioning from limited capacity to higher capacity bagging equipment. Today, Rauls bags approximately 50,000 tons of silage annually using a heavy-duty side-loader designed for forage wagons. The high-capacity Versa ID900N bagger, powered by a tractor, can be used to bag up to 12-foot diameter bags that are 500 feet long. 

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