Evaluation of a Low-Cost Innovative Ensiling System for Small- to Medium-Sized Dairy Operations
An increasing number of dairies are utilizing pasture as a major source of food to sustain profitable operations. However, few geographic areas can sustain pasture for the entire year. If high quality excess forage growth in pastures could be harvested and stored efficiently and economically, it would help meet nutritional needs during periods of limited forage.
Ensiling various crops, including those used for pasture, has been a viable on-farm alternative to meet forage needs for some time. Silage harvesting is not greatly affected by weather, so ensiling excess pasture is a sustainable solution. However, silage is not practical on many farms because of the expense of storage and equipment requirements, effluent losses (a waste of nutrients and an environmental hazard), and the difficulty of blending silages to meet livestock nutritional needs.
The producers addressed the above difficulties with a vacuum ensiling system. They used sheets of plastic and an old vacuum pump to create ensiled forage in the pasture where it is needed. The forage was piled on one half of a sheet of plastic, the other half was folded over it and sealed by rolling the upper and lower edges together around PVC pipe. The rolled plastic was held together by a C clip made from a piece of PVC pipe the same diameter as the pipe on which the plastic was rolled.
A vacuum was pulled on the plastic wrapped forage using an old milk vacuum pump. This vacuum needed to be pulled every day or at least every other day but was found to be satisfactory. The cows consumed the silage with no problems and milk production was maintained.
Two field days were held with presentations from all cooperators of the project. The producers spoke at the North American Grazing Conference. The project cooperators presented the results to a county extension in-service training session and other local, state and professional meetings involving producers and professionals. The cooperators published information about the project in two newsletters, two extension publications and the project was written up in the Stockman Grass Farmer.