tractors working on a silage pit

6 Tips to Reduce Waste from Pit Silage

Pit silage, also known as bunker or clamp silage, is a vital method for preserving animal feed over long periods. However, waste can occur during ensiling and feedout processes. In this article, we’ll explore five essential tips to help reduce waste and improve the efficiency of your pit silage system.

1. Proper Packing Technique

Using the proper packing technique is essential for reducing waste and ensuring the quality of pit silage. Achieving and measuring the required density is crucial to promote efficient fermentation and minimise air infiltration. Here’s how to achieve and measure the density required for optimal pit silage:

Equipment Selection: Use heavy machinery such as tractors equipped with roller compactors or packers designed specifically for silage compaction. These machines exert significant pressure to compress the silage layers, eliminating air pockets and promoting uniform density.

Layering Method: As you fill the silage pit, layer the chopped forage evenly and compact each layer thoroughly before adding the next. Use the weight of the machinery to press down on the forage, ensuring that it settles tightly and expels excess air.

Uniform Compaction: Ensure uniform compaction throughout the pit to prevent the formation of air pockets, which can lead to inefficient fermentation and spoilage. Pay close attention to the corners and edges of the pit, where compaction may be less effective.

Monitoring Density: To measure the density of the silage, use a density tester or penetrometer designed for silage compaction. These tools provide a numerical value indicating the pounds of dry matter per cubic foot of silage. Aim for a density of 14-16 pounds of dry matter per cubic foot to achieve optimal fermentation and preservation.

Testing Methods: Insert the density tester or penetrometer into various locations throughout the silage pit, including the center and edges, to ensure uniform compaction. Take multiple readings and average the results to obtain an accurate assessment of the overall density.

Adjusting Compaction: If the density falls below the target range, adjust the compaction process by increasing the number of passes with the compactor or adjusting the weight distribution on the silage surface. Avoid overcompaction, which can lead to excessive settling and difficulty in extracting silage during feedout.

Regular Monitoring: Throughout the filling process, continuously monitor the density of the silage to identify any areas requiring additional compaction. Adjust the packing technique as needed to maintain consistent density levels across the entire pit.

2. Effective Face Management:

Effective face management is crucial for minimising waste and maintaining the quality of pit silage. Using shear grabs instead of traditional grabs can significantly improve the process. Here’s how effective face management can help you maximise feed efficiency:

Shear Grabs for Efficient Feed Removal: Shear grabs are specifically designed to extract feed from the face of the silage pit. Unlike traditional grabs, shear grabs cleanly cut through the silage, minimising disturbance and reducing the risk of oxygen exposure. This method helps preserve the integrity of the silage face, preventing spoilage and maintaining feed quality.

Smooth and Compact Face: When using shear grabs, focus on creating a smooth and compact face during feed removal. Avoid excessive agitation or rough handling, as this can disrupt the silage structure and encourage aerobic spoilage. By maintaining a uniform face, you can minimise air penetration and preserve the nutritional value of the silage.

Minimising Oxygen Exposure: Oxygen exposure is a primary cause of silage spoilage, leading to nutrient degradation and reduced feed quality. Effective face management with shear grabs helps minimise oxygen ingress by reducing disruption to the silage surface. After removing feed, cover the face of the silage pit with airtight plastic sheets to further reduce oxygen exposure and preserve feed freshness.

Preventing Face Collapse: Proper face management with shear grabs also helps prevent face collapse, which occurs when the silage face becomes unstable and collapses inward. A collapsed face exposes more surface area to oxygen, increasing the risk of spoilage and waste. By using shear grabs to remove feed systematically, you can maintain a stable and secure face, reducing the likelihood of collapse and preserving feed quality.

Regular Maintenance of Shear Grabs: To ensure optimal performance, it’s essential to regularly maintain shear grabs and inspect them for signs of wear or damage. Keep the blades sharp and well lubricated to facilitate smooth cutting and minimise stress on the silage face. Address any issues promptly to prevent equipment failure and minimise disruption to feed removal operations.

3. Monitor Silage Moisture Levels:

Monitoring silage moisture levels when lifting silage is essential for ensuring that your stored forage remains in optimal condition for feeding your livestock. Here’s a straightforward guide to help you understand why it’s important and how to do it effectively:

Why Silage Moisture Matters: Silage moisture content is crucial because it directly affects the fermentation process and the quality of your stored forage. Too much moisture can lead to nutrient loss, increased effluent production, and reduced feed quality. Also, if the moisture content is too low, fermentation may not occur properly, resulting in nutrient loss and poor palatability.

Ways to Monitor Moisture Levels: There are various methods you can use to monitor silage moisture levels:

  • Moisture Probes: These devices provide real-time measurements and are inserted directly into the silage mass.
  • Microwave or Near-Infrared (NIR) Sensors: Portable sensors that use electromagnetic waves to measure moisture levels in silage samples.
  • Dry Matter Testing: Silage samples are collected and dried to determine dry matter content, with the difference representing moisture content.
  • Visual Assessment: While not as precise, visual inspection can give you an idea of moisture levels based on the appearance and texture of the silage.

Ideal Moisture Levels: Aim for a moisture content of 60-70% for corn silage and 50-60% for grass silage. These levels support efficient fermentation and help preserve nutrients while minimizing spoilage and effluent production.

Sampling Strategy: To get accurate moisture readings, take multiple samples from different parts of the silage mass, including the core and surface. Use a probe or auger to collect samples at various depths and locations to account for moisture variations.

Interpreting Results and Adjusting Practices: Based on moisture readings, adjust your management practices accordingly. If moisture levels are too high, increase packing density, extend wilting time, or add absorbent materials like dry hay or straw. If moisture levels are too low, consider reducing wilting time or adding water during ensiling.

Regular Monitoring and Record-Keeping: Make it a habit to monitor moisture levels regularly throughout the ensiling process, from harvesting to feedout. Keep detailed records of moisture measurements, along with the corresponding management practices and environmental conditions. This information will help you identify trends over time and make informed decisions for future silage management.

4. Implement Silage Additives:

Implementing silage additives can make a big difference in the quality of your stored forage. Here’s why and how to use them effectively:

Why Use Silage Additives: Silage additives help in several ways:

  • Better Fermentation: They contain helpful bacteria that speed up fermentation, preserving nutrients and keeping spoilage at bay.
  • Aerobic Stability: Some additives, like propionic acid, stop mould and yeast growth, ensuring your silage stays fresh during feedout.
  • Nutrient Retention: By improving fermentation, additives help keep more nutrients in the silage, making it better for your animals.

Types of Silage Additives: You’ll find different kinds of additives:

  • Inoculants: These have bacteria that boost fermentation.
  • Acids: Like propionic acid, which helps control spoilage.
  • Enzymes: They break down plant fibres, making the silage easier to digest.
  • Antioxidants: These stop nutrients from spoiling.

How Much to Add: The amount of additive depends on things like the type of forage and how wet it is. Follow the instructions from the manufacturer – usually, it’s about 1-2 litres per tonne of fresh forage.

How to Add Additives: You can add additives at different times:

  • Before Harvest: Some go on the crop while it’s still growing.
  • During Harvest: Liquid additives mix with water and get sprayed onto the forage as it’s chopped.
  • While Filling: Dry additives go on each layer of forage as it’s packed into the silo or bunker. Liquid ones can be sprayed during filling.

Making Sure it Mixes Well: It’s important to mix additives evenly with the forage. Use the right equipment to apply them evenly. Uneven distribution can lead to inconsistent fermentation and spoilage.

Staying Safe: Handle silage additives carefully and follow safety instructions. They can be corrosive or irritating, so wear protective gear and take precautions.

Keep an Eye on Things: After adding additives, keep an eye on the ensiling process. Check pH levels, temperature, and feed quality regularly. Adjust your approach based on what you see and how the feed analyses turn out.

5. Cover The Pit Properly

Covering the silage pit correctly is essential for preserving the quality of the stored silage and reducing waste. Here’s the correct procedure to cover a silage pit effectively:

Prepare the Silage Surface: Before covering the pit, ensure that the silage surface is smooth and level. Remove any debris, stones, or sharp objects that could puncture the cover.

Select the Cover Material: Choose a high-quality, UV-stabilized plastic silage cover designed specifically for this purpose. The cover should be thick enough to withstand weathering and sufficiently large to fully cover the silage pile with some overlap on the sides.

Position the Cover: Unroll the plastic cover over the silage pit, ensuring that it extends beyond the edges of the pit on all sides. The extra length will allow for secure anchoring and prevent exposure of the silage to air. Adding separate sections of cover draped over the side walls of the pit before filling with grass helps prevent spoiling at the sides.

Add a Effluent Drainage Channel: Along the sides at the bottom of the pit, create a channel to drain effluent away from the silage. This helps prevent effluent from accumulating and potentially contaminating the silage.

Anchor the Cover: Secure the edges of the cover with heavy objects, such as tyres or rubber mats, to prevent it from being blown away by wind or displaced by animals. Ensure that the cover is taut and firmly anchored to create an airtight seal, especially at the edges.

Inspect Regularly: Periodically inspect the silage cover to ensure it remains intact and properly sealed. Repair any tears, punctures, or loose edges promptly to maintain optimal preservation of the silage.

Monitor Silage Quality: Keep an eye on the quality of the silage throughout the storage period. If you notice any signs of spoilage or deterioration, investigate the cause and take corrective action as needed, which may include adjusting the cover or addressing underlying issues with the silage.

6. Regularly Inspect and Maintain Equipment:

Regularly checking and maintaining your silage equipment is vital for keeping your farm operations running smoothly and ensuring your animals receive top-quality feed. Here’s a simple guide on why and how to do it effectively:

Why It’s Important: Regular checks help you catch problems early, preventing breakdowns and saving you time and money. By staying proactive with maintenance, you can avoid unexpected issues during busy periods like harvest or feeding.

What to Inspect: Keep a close watch on key pieces of equipment such as tractors, compactors, shear grabs, and loaders. Look out for signs of wear and tear, leaks, or any anomalies that seem unusual.

When to Conduct Inspections: Perform a quick inspection before and after each use, and schedule more thorough checks regularly throughout the year. Pay particular attention during times of heavy usage or challenging conditions like wet fields.

Maintenance Tasks: Keep operations smooth by:

  • Lubricating moving parts to minimise friction and wear.
  • Sharpening blades on chear grabs for efficient cutting.
  • Inspecting hydraulic systems for leaks or damage.
  • Keeping equipment clean to prevent dirt buildup and corrosion.

Addressing Issues Promptly: If you identify any problems during inspection, don’t delay in fixing them. Take immediate action to prevent potential breakdowns in the future. Ensure you have spare parts readily available for quick repairs.

Training and Documentation: Ensure all equipment operators are adequately trained in basic maintenance procedures. Keep detailed records of inspections and repairs to monitor equipment performance and identify recurring issues.

Prioritising Safety: Safety should always come first. Adhere to manufacturer guidelines and wear appropriate protective gear as needed. Stay vigilant and focused while operating machinery to avoid accidents.