Spring thaw can contribute to feed waste

Spring is approaching, and now is a good time to assess forage inventories and finalize plans for 2014 production. However, in addition to planning for growing-season forages, springtime thawing often contributes to additional waste in the feed yard.

Spoilage will increase as temperatures rise

Much has been printed about using good management practices during the feeding process to help minimize waste, including spoilage when wet forages are exposed to air. Forages such as corn silage are an important ingredient for lactating dairy cows.

Silages this time of the year have fermented for at least six months, contributing to the best feed value of the season. The longer fermentation window means more available starch, which can translate into some of the best milk yields with last year’s crop. So wasting this valuable feed can be a significant loss in the form of spoiled feed and having to purchase additional feed to replace it.

As temperatures rise, so does the opportunity for wet feeds to spoil. In the case of corn silage, in the presence of oxygen, yeast metabolizes lactic acid, causing silage pH (acidity) to increase. When the pH increases, undesirable fungi and bacteria are able to grow and further spoil the silage.

This spoilage translates into dry-matter losses that can be as high as 10 percent in poorly managed silages, as well as reduction in forage quality and palatability. And while nature’s freezer (our cold weather) has served to reduce spoilage of wet byproducts, as the temperatures rise, so will spoilage.

As for ensiled and fermented feeds such as haylage and corn silage, the silage’s quality is set. Good feeding management practices can’t improve silage quality, but they can help reduce further feed deterioration. Here are some reminders:

  • Remove enough forage from the face of the silage mass. Livestock feed experts recommend removing forage to a depth of 12 inches in the cooler months and 18 inches in warmer months.
  • Remove the forage carefully so the face is smooth and the surface exposed to oxygen is minimized.
  • Pull the plastic cover on the silage mass back two to three times per week. Check the integrity of the plastic cover throughout the year and patch any holes or tears so air cannot infiltrate the silage mass.
  • Remove silage as needed throughout the day so it is incorporated into the ration shortly after removal.
  • Push feed up frequently, especially during the warm months, to avoid heating of the total mixed ration in the feed bunk and to stimulate appetite.

Waste reduction has real value. It comes in many forms, visible and invisible. Periodically reviewing feed-handling protocols with your employees and adjusting inventories to meet changes in feed availability for the coming year will help keep your dairy profitable.

By J.W. Schroeder, Dairy Specialist, NDSU Extension Service