Summer Feed Storage Management

Summer feed storage management is important to help minimize feed storage losses and maintain quality feed ingredients throughout the hot, summer months. There are things we can do, such as changing how much we take off the pile in summer versus winter and being able to identify issues with feed like mold or heat damage, to manage issues before they become big problems. In this podcast episode, UW-Extension and industry discuss ways we can manage feed in the summer.


Randy Shaver, PhD, Dairy Nutrition Specialist, UW-Madison/UW-Extension

Matt Lippert, Wood County Agriculture Agent, UW-Extension

Liz Binversie, UW-Extension Brown County Agriculture Educator


Time: 9:23 minutes


Liz Binversie: Greetings. I’m Liz Binversie, Agriculture Educator for UW-Extension in Brown County, Wisconsin.  Today we will continue our conversation and talk about heat stress and how we can manage feed storage on the farm to prevent heat damage which can lower feed quality. On the panel today is Randy Shaver, Dairy Nutrition Specialist and Professor for UW-Madison and UW-Extension; Matt Lippert, Agriculture Agent for UW-Extension in Wood County; and myself.

If we don’t manage our feed storage right, we can get heat damage and feed spoilage. This can result in lower feed quality and we want to do our best to provide the highest quality feed that we can to our dairy cattle.  Randy, what are your recommendations for managing feed storage on the dairy farm especially during these warmer summer months.

Randy Shaver: Well thank you, Liz. Thanks for asking me to discuss this very important topic and I would just like to say that this really starts many months before we get into the heat stress period. It really comes down to harvesting and storing that crop properly so that it ferments well and it’s less prone to spoilage when we get into some of these hot, humid periods during the summer months. For something like corn silage and high moisture corn, especially which are very prone to aerobic deterioration, we need to make sure that we’re harvesting at the right moisture content, processing or chopping properly, packing properly. There are some inoculants that are helpful with the back end or the feed out side in terms of improving aerobic stability at feed out and then also covering the silo. Then as we get into the actual feeding of this material, hopefully it’s very well fermented and we’ve done the best job that we could on the front end, but it really comes down to removal of silage—removing enough each day so we can stay ahead of any heating that’s occurring on the face. That comes down to having the proper silo sizing relative to herd size and then really managing that face to minimize heating and spoilage that can occur. Shaving the face, peeling it very tightly, not shaving silage down and leaving it lay for longer periods, but really managing the silo face very well so that we can minimize that heating. Then as we get into the TMR, it really comes to the assessment and to see if that TMR is getting hot in the feed bunk as we go throughout the day. One of the strategies here might be to feed more frequently in those periods so that we simply deliver less feed at any one time, and so it doesn’t have as much chance to spoil when exposed to oxygen. We might feed twice a day as opposed to once or even three times if we were already feeding twice. Then there are different products. These are largely acid-based products: buffered acetic acid or buffered benzoic acid that can reduce the exponential growth of yeast once that TMR is exposed to the air and sitting out in the feed bunk. Particularly during the summer months, these products may come into play to try to help minimize spoilage which can adversely affect feed intake and energy value of the feed and really impacts how those cows can meet their nutritional needs during those heat stress periods. Liz, there’s a number of other areas that I probably haven’t addressed. Would you like to add to that discussion?

Liz Binversie: Yes, thank you Randy. I thought you did a great job talking about face management and managing those cracks and crevices to reduce spoilage and losses. Another thing for producers to keep an eye out for are both the visual clues as well as the odors that are coming off of the pile. A yellowish hue could be an indicator of silages with a high acetic acid content, whereas a slimy green color may point to a high butyrate content in the silage, and a brown to black-colored silage usually means there was heating from fermentation and moisture loss. The reason why this is important to notice is because these silages are then at more risk for developing mold. If you see some white discoloration to silage, this is usually caused by a secondary mold growth. You can also use your nose in addition to your eyes to detect possible issues with silage. Normal silage should have a little bit of an odor to it, which is normal and is caused by lactic acid. But a vinegar smell is more typical of acetic acid and yeast fermentation can give silage an alcohol odor. If you smell a sort of rancid butter odor, that smell is typically caused by clostridial fermentation. Propionic acid causes a sharp or sweet smell, and heat-damaged silage causes a caramelized or tobacco-like smell. Any silage that has a musty, mildew, or a rotten smell is usually caused by mold, and this isn’t good for silage quality either. We want to be sure to keep an eye and a nose out on silage and the feed quality because if it smells bad to you, then it usually doesn’t taste that great to dairy cattle either. You may see more feed refusals and whatnot. Lastly, a final tip for feed out, especially if you’re delivering feed once a day or even twice a day, is to do more of your feeding at night in the cooler evening hours. The feed will stay fresher in the bunk during the cooler nighttime temperatures than during the heat of the day. Also, it’s a more comfortable time for cows to eat because a cow can’t avoid creating heat while she eats, but it won’t be as hot for her because the outside temperature will be cooler. When cows are delivered new feed during the heat of the day, any digestion that happens will add more heat to the cow’s body adding further insult to injury, but at nighttime there’s less of this additive heat effect. Matt, do you have anything else to add?

Matt Lippert: Well, thank you, Liz. I think you guys covered quite a few things here but just thinking of a few possible areas. When we’re looking at managing those feed bunk areas, it’s not too unusual to be handling two grades of haylage—maybe one that’s a first crop and maybe it’s lower in energy and then a later cutting that’s higher in protein—and we’re trying to balance this ration. Maybe in the middle of the summer it might be time to keep ahead of those feed faces and to be going through and managing fewer forage sources at one time. It might help us to go through those bunker storage faster or in tower silos. Then I know another area I think would be nice to cover is that besides the milking herd, we’ve got to make sure those little calves are getting water and changing that water frequently. They’ll also probably wet the calf starter more in the summer so that might be a thing to keep the calf starter fresh. If we have any amount of flies, we’re going to get problems with that in calf facilities. There’s certainly things we can do with the milking cows but there’s also potential to help things for little baby calves as well.

Liz Binversie: Thank you again to our panel for today. If you have questions or would like to reach any of our panelists, you can reach them by email. Tune in next time when we discuss water requirements for dairy cattle.