Reducing feed costs with edible silage coverings

Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Sep 13, 2004
by WLJ
— Spoilage declined 10-15 percent, sometimes more.
By Steven D. Vetter
WLJ Editor

With cattle procurement costs going through the roof this year, cattle producers are having to find ways to reduce costs elsewhere. The second largest cost of production is feed, and recent research has shown a way to decrease the cost associated with one feed resource.
A team of animal scientists at the University of Illinois, are close to getting a patent for an edible silage treatment and coverings that could significantly reduce the amount of silage spoilage, and overall cost associated with feeding cattle, particularly those in feedlot and dairy settings.
According to Larry Berger, professor of animal science at the University of Illinois, the silage treatment is a mixture of salt, ground wheat and tap water, which is sprayed over the top of bunkered, or piled, silage. The treated silage can then be covered with one of three wax coatings—a spray-on wax emulsion, paraffin wax, or food-grade wax paper.
University research utilizing silage harvested last year indicated that two of the three edible covering options yielded more usable silage for cattle, with the other option resulting in just slightly more spoilage than product covered with a more normal black plastic covering.
In each circumstance, 8,000 pounds of corn silage was stored four months before being fed, and the amount of usable feed was 5,861 pounds from the paraffin-covered bunker; 5,493 pounds from the wax paper-covered bunker; 4,759 pounds from the plastic-covered bunker; and 4,378 pounds from the bunker covered with the wax emulsion.
According to Berger, normal spoilage loss with black plastic is around 40 percent, compared to the spoilage rate of both the salt and wheat treatment and paraffin or wax paper covering is 15-22 percent. In addition, there is more value in the organically-treated and wax covered silage because of the nutrient content found in both of them.
The third treatment and wax emulsion option, according to Berger is a viable option in areas where sustained, slow-falling moisture doesn't normally occur.
"The treatment and wax emulsion can both shed and withstand a quick-hitting downpour," Berger said. "However, a good two- or three-day drizzle could result in the two melting off and opening up silage to more spoilage, than normal."
From a material standpoint, the organic treatment and wax coverings are a little more costly than black plastic, however, Berger said there are more benefits to be reaped by the new technology.
"Initially, the cost seems to be a little higher for the treated and wax covered silage, however, in the long run it is much cheaper because there is some nutrient value and benefits to be reaped by both the treatment and covering," said Berger. "In addition, your talking about saving 10-15 percent of normal feed losses, associated with standard practices."
Berger added that the treatment and wax coverings could be used in place of portable plastic bins, which are considered a nuisance because they are hard to get into to access the silage. In addition, those plastic silos are hard to dispose of because the material is not biodegradable or recyclable, in most cases.
The wheat, salt and water treatment is currently in the midst of being approved by the U.S. patent office, and Berger said it could be widely available to U.S. producers in approximately two years. Currently, the University of Illinois applies the treatment with a cement pump, however, an equipment company is currently under contract with the university in developing a machine that would drive over silage-filled bunkers and apply the treatment and covering.
Berger indicated that there have been concerns over how edible the coverings actually are, and how much of the covering would be consumed by individual animals. However, he indicated there shouldn't be that much of a concern. Berger didn't name the company involved.
"We're talking about less than one percent of any animal's diet consisting of wax coverings, particularly the paraffin, and that isn't even for all the animals to be fed treated or covered silage," Berger said. "As far as the concern about the wax's digestibility, humans eat the same wax when they eat a chocolate-covered cherry, or other similar foods."
Research on the issue started just over five years ago, Berger said. — WLJ