Remember safety when making silage

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When the weather breaks (hopefully as this article is written) literally tons of hay will go down across Ohio. Much will be chopped, some will be baled and wrapped, and weather permitting, some will be dry-baled.
While there are also tons of issues associated with getting that hay down – and then up again – two issues in particular are on my mind.
Absolutely, high quality forages to feed our herds are the ultimate goal of the process. But all the quality-generating practices in the world are worth nothing if someone gets hurt in the process.
Equipment. Power takeoff guards typically cost less than $100. Those pieces of plastic or metal have saved countless fingers, arms, legs and lives.
Parts and lives can be lost in an instant by even the most careful and experienced people working around mowers, rakes, wagons, balers, elevators and blowers.
Take away the experience and these tragedies are even more likely to happen.
Please take a few minutes to check and replace worn, broken or missing power takeoff, chain, knife, gear and any other guards on all forage equipment.
Bunk and pile. Recently I was searching for some heifer facilities pictures in the photos I’ve taken on many study trips and farm visits through the years.
There were quite a few forage-related pictures. Silage pictures fell into one of two categories, either excellent or appalling.
The photos showed excellent bunkers or piles that had been filled, shaped and packed to optimize both forage quality and safety – the safety of the bladers and packers and the safety of the guys working the face as they feed out the forage.
The excellent types didn’t try to see how much silage they could pile above bunker sidewalls before a tractor would roll off.
In the appalling pictures, 20 feet over the sidewalls was not uncommon. Nor was a pile with a peak of 30 to 40 feet.
In one case, the old pile was only half gone, so they were unloading and packing silage right up to and under the 30 foot overhang of the older silage.
Not safe. Face it, you can’t safely pack, cover and seal bunks or piles that high. The evidence in some of the pictures was the tremendous amount of spoilage in the top third of the face.
How can a face that is higher than the reach of any unloading equipment be managed?
A smooth face minimizes moisture and dry matter loss, spoilage and cave-ins. To “shave” silage off the face, a person has to be in a piece of equipment right at the face and pulling silage down.
How is the spoiled silage separated? It probably isn’t.
Many of the silage faces were tremendously irregular. They were too big and ragged to stay ahead of spoilage. Far too many looked like a cave-in waiting to happen.
A few minutes of planning and action can save moments and lifetimes of trouble.
Do a safety check before leaving the machine shed. Those few minutes should be as second nature as grabbing the grease gun.
Swallow hard and spend a few bucks replacing broken or missing shields and guards.
A difference. Those same few minutes can make the difference between 70 pounds and 90 pounds of milk per cow per day rolling out the driveway.
Size and slope the pile or bunker to match the feed-out rate and feed-out equipment. Size and slope the pile or bunker to maximize silage packing and sealing.
Watch the milk roll, not the tractor.
(The author is the northeast Ohio district dairy specialist with OSU Extension. Send comments or questions in care of Farm and Dairy, P.O. Box 38, Salem, OH 44460.)

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