Ready…Set…Harvest Silage Safely How to get it all done without getting hurt

Connie Kuber

Silage harvest is an exciting time of year! Finally, after months of growing crops, it turns to valuable feed in a matter of hours. We are either exhilarated or stressed out - or both! Don’t let the excitement sidetrack your safety efforts. Huge choppers, trucks, tractors, sharp knives, strong personalities, Mother Nature, and the clock combine to make harvest a time we need to be extra sensitive to safety.

Pre-harvest Meeting

A well-planned harvest will alleviate much anxiety. No matter how large or small your crew is, take time to get everyone together about two weeks before harvest to go over detailed plans and safety procedures. Cover all your plans for harvest production: dry matter target, kernel processing, chop length and density goals, inoculant application, drive over pile construction, and sealing. Establish hand signals for stop, speed up, slow down, and all-okay. Know who is responsible for what, and when tasks will be done. Share contact information and if possible, create a group text including everyone involved. Go over basic safety information and follow up with more detailed training for each person’s job. Everyone wears a safety vest, all day long. It’s also a good idea to alert neighbors about the temporary increased traffic.

At the Chopper

Let’s start with chopper safety. Refer to the manufacturer’s suggested safety guidelines. Keep machine guards and shields in place and replace worn safety stickers. Make it a strict policy that operators totally shut down machinery and remove the keys, before fixing or unplugging - no exceptions. Enforce stay-clear zones - no one should approach closer than 50 feet on all sides of the chopper when it is running, until the driver sees the person and stops.

Trucks and tractor/wagon drivers need to be especially aware of chopper stay-clear zones and have good communication with the chopper driver. These drivers need to understand rules of the road: speed limit, flashing lights-on, stay to the right lane, and be watchful for people, other vehicles, and any other hazards.

Storage Site Safety

At the pile, bunker, bag, or silo, refer again to manufacturer’s suggested safety guidelines, keep machine guards and shields in place, and replace worn safety stickers. Just like at the chopper, if a machine needs to be repaired or unplugged, totally shut it down before working on it.

Add weight on wheels of blade and pack tractors, front and back. This provides stability and will help increase packing density. Use the 1:3 and 1:4 slope rule when making piles and filling bunkers, and do not overfill. Use sight rails on bunker walls. Drivers need to be aware and develop procedures to avoid collision.

Truck drivers need to ensure their truck or wagon is on firm, flat ground before the raising bed. Again, stay – clear zones must be respected.

Sealing the pile or bunker with Sealpro® Barrier Film is the final harvest step. Lift rolls correctly to avoid back injuries and maintain footing throughout the process.

Silo Gas

Be aware of potential silo gas poisoning. There are many types of silage gases produced during filling, and ensiling, and they can accumulate in silos, feed rooms, livestock housing and open lots. Nitrogen dioxide is a toxic, reddish-orange to yellowish-brown heavier than air gas, and smells like laundry bleach. It can produce sudden death - even a brief exposure can be dangerous and lead to chronic respiratory symptoms. Highest levels of nitrogen dioxide are present during the first 24 to 72 hours after the forage is put into the pile or silo, but dangerous levels can persist for up to three weeks.

 

Tower silo users need to be aware of carbon dioxide: an odorless, colorless, and tasteless gas that can be dangerous in a closed environment. At a certain point, the victim will gasp for air, but at higher levels, this reflex action is inhibited, and the victim is asphyxiated. It is best to stay away from tower silos for three weeks after filling, but if you must go into it, ventilate by running the forage blower for 15 to 20 minutes with the door closest to the top of the silo open so gas escapes. Wear a ventilator and be attached to a life-line monitored by a person outside the silo – no exceptions. Ventilate feed rooms. If you experience slight throat irritation or coughing around a silo, see a doctor and tell them you could have been exposed to a silo gas.

Take Care of Yourself

Taking care of simple personal details from harvest start to finish helps everyone stay focused. Sleep well. Eat right. Stay hydrated. Wear safety vests. Don’t wear loose clothes, ripped sleeves or pant legs. Wear hats, sunscreen, and closed-toe footwear. Have and enforce a drug and alcohol policy: employees are to arrive work on time, and in a physical and mental state to do their best work.

 

This series will help you build a silage safety plan for your farm. The information was developed by the Keith Bolsen Silage Safety Foundation and produced by Connor Agriscience to the best of their knowledge. Both have a sincere and strong desire to “send everyone home safe.” Recommendations are made without warranty or guarantee.

Editor’s note: This silage safety information is produced by Connor Agriscience / Sealpro® Silage Films with the support of the Keith Bolsen Silage Safety Foundation. Both are experienced leaders in silage education. Please see their websites for more information: www.connoragriscience.com and www.silagesafety.org. The author is a partner in Connor Agriscience. Look for upcoming silage safety features in DairyBusiness.