The Secret to Reducing Silage Shrink

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Silage "shrink" — due to losses during ensiling — means that producers end up not only with less available feed due to dry matter (DM) loss, but it also results in lower feed quality due to those DM losses being the most digestible nutrients. Even just based on the loss of DM, preventing 10 percent additional losses can save producers around $35,000 a year for a 500-cow dairy.

The secret to keeping silage shrink in check is good forage management from harvest to feedout. In particular, there are six areas producers can target to help manage their DM losses.

  1. Harvest: Harvest the crop at the right moisture level and stage of maturity. If the silage is too dry, it can be difficult to pack; too wet can mean losses due to run off and even result in a silage-ruining clostridial fermentation, especially in haylages. Crops in an advanced stage of maturity normally have less sugar freely available to fuel the fermentation and tend to have higher yeast and mold challenges.
  2.  Ensure rapid fermentation: To reduce initial fermentation losses, one key is to use an inoculant proven to dominate the fermentation and produce a quick pH drop. Promoting a fast pH drop can also help stabilize forage and reduce yeast growth, which is the major cause of silage heating. The lactic acid bacteria Pediococcus pentosaceus 12455 provides an efficient, fast fermentation, especially when fueled by sugars generated by high activity enzymes.
  3.  Plan ahead for minimal aerobic spoilage losses: To minimize aerobic spoilage, we need to minimize yeast levels in the silage. The high dose rate Lactobacillus buchneri 40788 has been reviewed by the FDA and allowed to claim efficacy in preventing the growth of yeasts and molds in silages and HMC.
  4. Pack: Achieving a higher silage DM density during ensiling (15 to 16 pounds DM per cubic foot minimum) helps drive out oxygen, the main enemy of high quality silage.
  5. Shape: For drive over piles, be sure to shape surfaces well, not exceeding a 4-to-1 slope to allow good packing and operator safety, while ensuring  water drains off the finished silage pile.
  6. Seal: Sealing forages immediately after filling with a proven oxygen barrier film helps further minimize DM losses. Overlapping the edges by at least four feet and securing them with more weight (such as whole, heavy tires or gravel bags) can help prevent water from seeping into the pile. It"s also important to routinely monitor the plastic and repair any damage that could expose the silage to oxygen as quickly as possible.

After reviewing harvesting and filling procedures, be sure to examine feedout protocols. Silage is again exposed to oxygen during this time, which can make it vulnerable to aerobic instability and cause considerable losses. Be sure to use good face management. Avoid removing silage too far ahead of feeding and feed out at the right rate.

Finally, if you do see any spoiled silage, remove and discard it. This is a far less expensive option than dealing with all the issues that feeding spoiled silage can cause.

For additional tips on producing high-quality silage, visit or Ask the Silage Dr. on Twitter or Facebook.