Send Them Home Safe: Silage Feedout Safety

Connie Kuber

Now that you took the time to make the best silage or high moisture corn of your life, feed every ounce of it safely from the pile or bunker! Always, always, always expect silage to avalanche, even if you have taken all of the following precautions.

Be visible. With loaders running, wagons filling, delivery trucks operating in both forward and reverse, even the largest of people become hard to see. Issue safety vests to everyone working in the feed area, and make it a no-excuses rule that they wear them. Vests are more convenient than t-shirts: they can be left at the dairy, and worn over summer shirts or winter jackets.


Use the buddy rule. Do not work alone near feed piles or bunkers. If something happens, a buddy can call 911 immediately.

Do not fall. Although the pile or bunker will usually have to be climbed to remove tires, tire sidewalls, gravel bags, and plastic, do it at a safe distance from the edge of the face. Never step closer to the edge than the height of the silage face. Wear shoes or boots that will not slip.

Do not pitch spoiled silage. If you have done a good job of building the silage pile or bunker, used a proven inoculant, packed it properly and sealed it with the best oxygen barrier possible, you shouldn’t have much visible spoiled feed in the outer layer. If you do have surface spoilage, don’t pitch it, and don’t ask anyone else to. If there has been a hole in the plastic or film, which allowed water and/or air in, you will likely see a spoiled area when uncovering. You might choose to pitch that darkened area of feed but always stay a safe distance from the edge of the face.


Stay away from the face - period. No ifs, ands, or buts. There is absolutely no reason to walk closer to the face of a pile or bunker than three times its height. Figure how far three times the height is, then mark the area with bright traffic cones. Adjust the distance as the pile is fed. Don’t park equipment or vehicles within that area. Post signs that warn everyone to stay back. Remember, always expect the feed to avalanche.

Feed piles should be no taller than the unloading equipment can reach. Use a rake or defacer to remove silage. Do not undercut the pile, creating an overhang of silage which can fall. It is also recommended to rake the face at a slight outward angle to minimize the chance of an avalanche, but do not use this practice in the place of strict vigilance. If the loader must be driven close to the face to scrape raked or defaced feed into a staging pile, use the buddy rule - never work alone.

Sample safely. Never approach the face, either on foot or in a loader, to collect a sample. Instead, use unloading equipment to remove a representative sample from the face, moving it to a staging pile or in a loader bucket a safe distance away. Then collect handfuls from several parts of the sample, place them in a large container. Mix together and place handfuls in a plastic bag for lab analysis. Also, never approach the face to core it, a common practice to check density.

One final thought. Share this information with everyone on the farm, whether they work in the feed area or not. Warn children to never play in, ride their bikes near, slide on, or jump from the feed piles. Always expect feed to avalanche.

Farming is a dangerous occupation, but you can take steps to be safer around feed piles and bunkers. There are no shortcuts, and many accidents are avoidable. Unfortunately, lives have been lost or forever changed because of feed accidents. Take every precaution to send everyone home safe.

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.