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In the Press

Sep 25, 2018

Nebraska Feedyard Rethinks Silage Management, Reduces Costs (Feed Lot – September/October 2018)

Sep 25, 2018

Rhea Brothers GP near Arlington, Neb., already had a successful feeding program. For years, its knowledgeable crew grew, chopped, ensiled and fed their own crops. A little more than 8 percent of the operation’s total rations were comprised of corn silage, ryelage or occasionally high-moisture corn (HMC).
Yet, even experienced crews can run into silage challenges. In 2015, the feedyard saw 30 percent shrink loss with its ryelage — a figure well above its average. It was a significant hit to the year’s feed costs, resulting in both less available feed and lower quality feed.

Calling In Experts

Tracing the source of the problem led the feedyard to re-evaluate both management practices and forage inoculant choices. Andrew Lancaster, Feedyard Manager, determined the whole crew needed a refresher on silage management and took them to the Silage for Beef Cattle Conference near Mead, Neb., in June 2016.
“The Silage for Beef Cattle Conference was a great learning experience for our team,” Lancaster said. “We noticed that there were small but significant adjustments we could make to our silage program that could help prevent losses like we experienced with our ryelage.”
The conference featured industry experts in silage and provided tips on ensuring a successful initial fermentation, reducing shrink loss and the impact of silage inoculation. Given new information on silage management available to the beef industry, Lallemand Animal Nutrition approached extension specialists from Iowa State University and the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Experts from each of the organizations organized a one-day conference, now in its second year.
Rhea Brothers GP took new tips back to the feedyard. At home, the team reviewed the cost and benefits of their silage program and addressed issues with inoculant selection, pile construction, packing density, face management and aerobic stability.
Lancaster called in additional help from Lallemand Animal Nutrition.
“The problems Rhea Brothers GP experienced are common, but that doesn’t mean producers should put up with high shrink losses,” said Renato Schmidt, Ph.D., Technical Services – Silage, Lallemand Animal Nutrition. “In fact, the losses are only part of the story. Producers can see there’s less feed available, but what we can’t see is what’s lost. It’s quality that disappears too. The initial nutrient losses are often valuable sugars, organic acids, starch and proteins.”

Packing Up

Lancaster started making changes from the ground up. One of the management problems he identified was the pack density of the bunker pile. He used an online calculator from the University of Wisconsin (available at to help determine the weight needed for efficient packing. The free calculator accounts for multiple factors, including the base width of the pile, the delivery rate of forage to the pile, the forage dry matter (DM) content and more.
Getting the packing density right helps drive out air and speeds up the fermentation, Dr. Schmidt explained.
“Oxygen is the enemy of high-quality silage. Poor packing can cause problems at ensiling and all the way to feedout,” he said “Packing literally squeezes air out of the silage. While oxygen is present, aerobic spoilage microbes can grow. As a result, producers experience reduced silage quality, shrink and nutrient losses.”

Managing Microbes

Lancaster also changed up the feedyard’s forage inoculant. He selected Biotal® Plus II inoculant because it contained two bacterial strains — Pediococcus pentosaceus 12455 and Propionibacterium freudenreichii R2453 — proven to provide a fast, efficient fermentation, and help with the stability during feedout, respectively. The rapid action of P. pentosaceus 12455 helped Rhea Brothers GP directly combat shrink loss.
Improving fermentation helps improve overall silage quality, which can directly impact the bottom line. In a study conducted by Kansas State University, the two specific strains applied to HMC resulted in steers consuming 4 percent more feed and gaining 6.8 percent faster than cattle fed the untreated ration. Overall, the study saw an overall increase of 6.6 pounds per ton dry matter intake (DMI).1
“There are a lot of inoculant choices out there,” Dr. Schmidt said. “I always recommend producers choose a research-proven product. Using the right inoculant is one of the most cost-effective ways to help the fermentation process. Driving a fast, efficient fermentation process is the key to reducing shrink loss and improving silage quality.”

The Results

After adjusting management practices and inoculant choices, Rhea Brothers GP saw a significant improvement in their ryelage — reducing their shrink losses from 30 percent down to 11 percent. Lancaster said the quality of the silage was visibly improved and green all the way through the pile.
“Since improving our management practices, and adding Biotal Plus II, we have a lot less waste,” Lancaster said. “I’ve noticed that our calves aren’t sorting the ration as much as they previously did.”

In addition, the crew no longer rushes to feed-out silage before it spoils. Previously, the feedyard saw spoilage on the face of the bunker. Now, Lancaster said there is almost no spoilage.
Rhea Brothers GP significantly improved its bottom line feed costs, and Lancaster attributes the turnaround to his team’s willingness to rethink its silage strategy. He also credits the expert assistance from ISU, UNL and Lallemand Animal Nutrition.
“Not only did Lallemand provide us with management tips and inoculant solutions, but the customer service from their field team was top-notch,” Lancaster said. “The in-field team they have was willing to go the extra mile to make sure we had the right solutions for our operation. There are a thousand different producers out there, but they made sure we were taken care of.”


1 Kreikemeier, K. K. and Bolsen, K. K. Effect of Treating High-Moisture Corn with a Bacterial Inoculant (Biotal) at Ensiling on Fermentation Efficiency and Growth Performance
and Carcass Merit of Finishing Steers. 1995. Cattleman’s Day, Kansas State University
Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, Report of Progress 745

Published in the September/October issue of Feedlot Magazine: