Corn Silage: Part 4 Feed Out Safety

Farm safety can save lives and is very important to keep in mind as you go through your daily chores. Working with bunkers and piles can be very dangerous without the proper safety precautions. Use these tips to keep yourself safe when preparing and delivering feed to livestock.


Liz Binversie, Brown County UW-Extension Agriculture Educator


John Shutske, PhD, Agricultural Engineering Specialist, UW-Madison/UW-Extension

Brian Holmes, PhD, Emeritus Professor, Biological Systems Engineering Department, UW-Madison/UW-Extension


Time: 7:32 minutes


Liz Binversie: Greetings, I’m Liz Binversie, Brown County Agriculture Educator for UW-Extension, and I will be your moderator for today. On the panel is John Shutske, Agricultural Engineering Specialist for UW-Madison and UW-Extension, and Brian Holmes, Emeritus Professor in the Biological Systems Engineering Department for UW-Madison and UW-Extension.

Farming is one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States, and there are a lot of ways that people can be injured on the farm, especially during harvesting season. So John, what tips do you have to help keep people safe this harvest season?

John Shutske: Thanks, Liz.  It’s always important to talk about dairy farm safety. It does need to be a year-round thought process and a year-round activity. In some of the previous podcasts, we talked about some of critical needs in the summer and the early fall chopping season, and again for people wanting more information I would really encourage them to seek that out and learn more.  Feed out is actually something that happens throughout much of the rest of the year, so let me spend a little bit of time   talking about some of the unique risks there.  One of the things we are concerned about is farmers that are feeding silage.  Silage for the most part is not real dusty, but when you do encounter dust, often times it is because silage has spoiled or gotten too dry. One of the things we find in silage dust when it does occur is mold and mold spores. Depending on a person’s health status, dust from silage can cause some pretty severe health effects because of that mold.  For some people, mold spore exposure can cause an illness that we refer to as farmer’s lung, and another one that we refer to as Silo Unloader Syndrome. They are slightly different, but medical professionals can diagnose the difference. Farmer’s lung is especially a risk for people that have allergies or asthma, or are in other ways sensitive to dust and other airborne contaminants.  People who are prone to farmer’s lung really do need to try to avoid these exposures whenever possible.  If you’re concerned, it’s really smart to check in with your family doctor or other health care professional in your community.  If you’re working around any type of airborne contaminant, a tight-fitting dust mask can be very helpful.  We often talk about using an approved and certified N95 mask (n as in Norman). The N95 mask needs to fit well, make sure that all of your workers that are wearing them are in good health, and we really do prefer to see respirators used within an occupational health and safety program that is in an overall respiratory protection program.

On a bunker silo, I want to talk a little bit more about injuries.  Feeding presents some specialized hazards. Equipment is one of the big ones, like loaders, trucks, and tractors.  It can be a busy and confusing and sometimes an unsafe place. So you need to make sure your employees have good training, and visitors – and especially children – need to be kept well away from these dangerous, busy feed out areas.  Another very unique exposure that I want to talk about briefly is silage defacing or removing that front face of a bunker silo. We have seen some injuries that have occurred across the country. There was a very high profile death about 10 or 11 years ago in the State of New York. It involved a young man; he was 18 years old.  He started is work early in the morning on a modest family-run dairy farm, and it was a farm where safety had been emphasized over and over again. It was a cold morning. This young guy started the tractor and he raised the defacer up off the ground about 4 feet.  We’re not exactly sure why this happened, but he engaged the facer with the hydraulic lever, and for some reason he climbed off of the tractor with everything running just to sort of do a quick check.  Nobody knows exactly what happened, but he walked around the right-hand front side of the tractor and his work jacket got caught in the outer edge of this defacer.  It snagged him obviously very badly, badly enough that it actually picked him up and he rotated with the defacer.   His uncle heard what was happening. He saw the situation. The uncle ran over, shut off the tractor, and he was able to get the young man down. He had to cut loose some clothing and he called for help.  While he waited for the ambulance and the sheriff to arrive, he tried to give CPR, but by the time the sheriff got there, the victim was dead. These kinds of things unfortunately happen all too often on dairy farms around the country, almost on a daily basis.  In Wisconsin, we see frequent deaths and fatalities after being wrapped up in machinery. Do not get off of any moving machine with the parts moving. It’s just too risky. I’m going to turn it over to Brian Holmes for some additional safety reminders.

Brian Holmes: Thank you, John. The other big concern with feed out is overhangs in bunkers and piles. These silage ledges can avalanche and trap a person under several thousand pounds of silage.  Faces should not be any taller than the feed out equipment can reach. Avalanches can also occur without an overhang, so consider all feed out faces unstable and stay away from them. The key point is to stay back from the feed out face of a bunker or pile at a distance of at least 3 times the height to avoid being engulfed by an avalanche. So if you’re looking at a feed out face that’s 10-15 feet high, you need to keep a distance of 30-45 feet back from that face. With very tall feed out faces, you might want to consider installing a bar screen or some other screening system on the windows of the unloading tractor to prevent the operator from being trapped in the cab in the event of an avalanche. When a sample needs to be taken, scoop up some of the silage in the loader, drive the loader away from the avalanche zone, and take your sample from the bucket.  Again the farm is potentially a dangerous industrial place. We provided you with some basic ideas; there are always more of them to learn. Don’t make assumptions     all you who are working within the operational zone need to understand the need for knowledge and tools that can help to keep them safe. For more information, look on the website

Liz Binversie:  Thank you to our wonderful panel today. If you’d like to reach any of our panelists, you can do so by email. Tune in next time about how you can best manage your corn silage this year to prevent feed losses.