Silage Storage Safety

02:15AM Sep 10, 2014
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Avoid these common hazards when you pack and store

Two years ago, while sampling from a silage pile on a central California dairy, a nutritionist was buried under tons of packed feed when the 30'-tall pile gave way. He suffered a broken back.

Although he recovered fully after months of physical therapy, that incident underscores the grave consequences of ignoring silage storage hazards, says Peter Robinson, dairy nutritionist with the University of California. Whether your dairy packs its silage in a pile, bunker, tower or even "sausage" bag, it’s critical to avoid mistakes with these pointers:

1. Beware of dangerous gases from silage storage fermentation.
Exposure to fermentation gases, which Robinson says is an under-recognized problem, can damage lungs, create long-term breathing problems or even cause death.
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Carbon dioxide is often found in silage towers. "You won’t smell carbon dioxide, but you can black out and suffocate if you breathe it," Robinson says. 

Nitrogen dioxide is even more dangerous, and is produced from corn silage piles that have been filled over multiple days. Heavier than air, the orange-colored gas sinks to the ground and carries a bleach-like odor. "If you smell nitrogen dioxide, it may be too late to prevent some damage," he says. If you find yourself in that situation, hold your breath and exit the area as quickly as possible.

Avoid entering a silo or lifting the plastic cover of a silage pile for three to four weeks after forage has been added.

2. Don’t build silage piles higher than your equipment can reach.
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Only removing the lower sections of your silage pile leaves an overhanging face, which increases the risk of its collapse. Don’t allow anyone within the fall zone—the area around the pile equal to its height—unless he or she is protected.

3. Avoid poor silage packing and shrink.
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Silage packed to more than 50 lb. per cubic foot often will seep from the structure or pile. When that occurs, you’re losing valuable nutrients. Likewise, low-density packing allows oxygen to penetrate silage, creating fermentation and heat, which degrades nutrient value. Just as important, keep track of shrink, or feed loss. "Aim for 2% shrink," Robinson says. "At 10%, you’ve got a problem." Use feed-tracking tools to trace any losses.

4. Minimize storage losses and increase worker safety by covering the silage pile as you go.
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Covering your silage with plastic helps prevent oxygen penetration and nutrient degradation. Using an inner film beneath your outer plastic covering will reduce the amount of mold, mycotoxins and yeast in the outer layer of the silage, especially the outer 12". Don’t forget to seal the edges of your silage mass with weights. It’s one more opportunity to avoid oxygen penetration.