The Analysis of the Cost and Quality of Direct Cut Vacuum Silage for the Northeast

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2010: $8,442.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2010
Region: Northeast
State: Maine
Project Leader:
Seth Kroeck
Crystal Spring Community Farm


  • Agronomic: general silage crops, grass (misc. perennial), hay
  • Animals: bovine, sheep
  • Animal Products: dairy


  • Animal Production: feed/forage, stockpiled forages, winter forage
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, workshop, technical assistance
  • Energy: energy conservation/efficiency
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns, agricultural finance
  • Soil Management: soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems

    Proposal summary:

    A major problem for small farms in the northeast is meeting the nutrient needs of ruminants during the non-grazing season. Harvesting and storing high quality forage, essential to sustainable production of meat, milk and fiber by ruminant animals, has many challenges. Although the northeast has a good base of soil types and climate to produce high quality forages, the methods for harvest and storage produce variable quality. Sheep and cattle production can contribute significantly to the agricultural income if we continue to improve the production and use of high quality forages as their major nutrient source.

    Work at the University of Illinois (Ricketts, G. E. et al, Management Guidelines for Efficient Sheep Production, North Central Regional Extension Publication 240, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, 1993.) has shown that sheep feed costs can be reduced by as much as 50% when forage testing 16% protein or higher on a dry matter basis is supplied during the winter months.

    For small farms, the capital equipment costs associated with these systems is often prohibitive. For example, the equipment to produce round bale silage: a mower/conditioner, baler, bale wrapper and a transport system, have an estimated cost of $80,000.

    In the last few years an alternative lower cost silage system has become available in the United States. The process is called the “direct cut vacuum silage system” and has a capital investment of about one-half that needed to make round bale silage. Some work has been done to evaluate the capital and operational costs of the direct cut vacuum silage system but little has been done to evaluate the nutritional value of the silage compared to the more capital expensive round bale silage process. In this project we would compare silage made by the both round bale silage and direct cut vacuum silage and determine the unit cost of protein and energy (pounds of protein, calories of energy). The cost analysis would take into consideration the value of the stored nutrient as well as equipment/farmer time and initial capital costs.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    For this project, equipment to produce direct cut vacuum silage will be leased from an equipment supplier- the closest available equipment is in Illinois. In order to better evaluate the direct cut process, our “control” will be to hire a local farmer to make round bale silage from the same fields at the same time the direct cut silage is harvested.

    The process involves cutting with a unique simple heavy-duty flail style chopper designed in New Zealand called a “lacerator”. The forage is cut and blown directly into a forage wagon. The filled silage wagon is transported to a silage storage area (can be a close mowed location in a field). Thirty to fifty feet long piles, twenty feet wide are made by dumping the wagons and pushing the material into the long rows. When the plies are approximately half the final height (approximately 4’ to 5’) a four inch perforated PVC pipe is placed the long way on the pile. The pipe is plugged at one end and the pile is completed. A silage grade plastic sheet large enough to cover all of the silage is pulled over the pile and the edges of the plastic are made tight to the ground using soil, sand, lime, etc. A large vacuum pump is attached to the open end of the PVC pipe and air is removed from the silage to create a “shrink wrap” appearance to the pile. Under these conditions fermentation begins creating organic acids that act to lower the pH in the silage pile and preserve the forage as high quality feed.

    Forage material to be harvested will come from several different fields, each representing a different mix of grass/legumes. By harvesting from several fields growing different grass/legumes mixes we will be able to describe whether forage type has an influence on quality in the direct cut /round bale silage comparison.

    Samples of the material will be taken at harvest time and at time of feeding from the direct cut material and the round bale silage. The samples from the direct cut will be taken as the material is dumped where the piles are being formed. Samples will be taken from the round bale silage using a hay auger at times silage is baled. All samples will be put into airtight containers and placed in a freezer until shipped for analysis. The samples will be shipped for overnight delivery to the testing laboratory, Dairy One Forage Testing Laboratory, Ithaca, New York.

    Samples of both types of silage will also be collected at time of feeding, 6 to 8 months after the silage has been made. These samples are crucial and need to be taken carefully to assure we are testing properly collected materials. They will be collected with the advice and suggestions of our technical advisors (Brzozowski, Kersbergen, Stokes). The samples will be placed in airtight containers and stored in a freezer until shipped overnight to the testing laboratory. We will use a wet analysis package along with a fermentation profile to evaluate the types of acids produced. Using the results of the silage analysis a summary of overall quality and feed value will be developed.

    The total cost of producing silage is important. By calculating labor, equipment costs and other expenses involved in producing the respective silages a cost per pound of protein and unit of energy will be calculated. This will provide one way to evaluate how important direct cut vacuum silage may be to the small and medium sized farmer. Other observations will be noted such as how convenient is direct cut silage to feed, what is the general acceptance of the animals of the product, what are ways the process could be improved.

    We have asked 3 individuals to be our technical advisors and they include:

    Richard Kersbergen, Extension Professor, University of Maine (Richard will be our primarily advisor)with input and help from:

    Richard Brzozowski, Extension Professor, University of Maine
    Martin Stokes, Professor and Chair, Animal And Veterinary Sciences Department, University of Maine
    Mr. Kersbergen and Dr. Stokes will provide advice and direction regarding our silage making processes, sampling techniques and review the information we collect.

    Mr. Brzozowski will help primarily with the organization of field days and handouts, videos and other outreach efforts we will use to share the results of this project.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.