Keeping Silage Season Safe

Keeping Silage Season Safe

According to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, corn silage production increased by almost 4.3 million tons over the last five years. That is a lot of silage and a lot of work. Many farmers devote a substantial amount of time and labor into making silage every year. The process can be grueling and sometimes dangerous, especially during hot weather. 

As we enter the silage season, let us pause to identify and acknowledge potential safety hazards. Discussing safety is not “fun,” but it is a necessity for everyone. Safety hazards happen on a 20-cow dairy just as easily as on a 30,000-cow dairy. By the same token, safety hazards affect a farmer with decades of farming experience just as easily as a new employee with no farming experience. Being safe is everyone’s responsibility.


Safely operating tractors and harvesters is crucial to preventing machinery-related injuries. Tractor rollovers, in particular, were the number one cause of agricultural machinery-related deaths. Rollover protective structures provide some protection, but this protection is meaningless if you are not wearing your seatbelt. Which leads to the next safety hazard – no extra riders should be allowed on a tractor.

Common injuries from harvesters occur when someone attempts to remove debris from the header while the machine is still running. Remember to turn the equipment off before you work on the header. It is easy to be so focused on figuring out the problem we forget to turn the machine off. If you need to, tape a note to the door or steering wheel to help you remember. Also, keep in mind that wearing loose-fitting clothing is a safety hazard, especially near power take-offs.  

Heat stress

We know hot weather negatively influences cows, but do not forget it also affects you and your employees. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s heat index, which we use to monitor levels of human heat stress exposure, is calculated using the environmental temperature and relative humidity. Caution should be taken once the environmental temperature reaches 80°F and relative humidity is 40%. This means you and your employees should be mindful of any signs of heat exhaustion, which include headache, dizziness, nausea, weakness, thirst, heavy sweating and decreased urination. Staying hydrated and taking breaks while working outside during hot weather will help prevent heat exhaustion. 

On a side note, we use the temperature-humidity index to monitor heat stress exposure in dairy cattle. This index indicates that cows are exposed to heat stress conditions once the environmental temperature reaches 80°F and 0 relative humidity or 72°F and 45% relative humidity. 

Silage storage and handling

Silage avalanches are extremely dangerous. Do not allow anyone to stand next to the feedout face of silage piles or collect samples from the feedout face. Train your employees how to load silage from the pile without causing overhangs. For example, shaving off the end of a silage pile is safer than taking silage from the bottom of the pile. Although this concept may seem like common sense to you, many employees lack experience on farms and they “don’t know what they don’t know.” Overfilling silage bunkers or drive-over piles is also a safety hazard. A truck driving over an overfilled pile could easily slip off the pile and fall.    

Here are three key safety rules that apply to all areas of the farm, not just silage. 

  1. When possible, make a concerted effort to work in pairs. The “buddy system” is vital for emergencies. If an avalanche occurs or someone experiences symptoms of heat exhaustion, it is safer to have another employee or family member available to seek help and administer first aid. 
  2. Rushed work is not safe work. We understand the adage that "time is money," but we are more prone to accidents when we rush our work. The loss of a limb or life is not equitable to saved time. We need to understand this ourselves, and then we need to ensure our employees and family members understand it as well. 
  3. Always be aware of your surroundings. How many times do you drive to a routine place, such as the grocery store, and realize you do not even remember the drive? Once we get into a routine, we lose some of our awareness, and our reaction time is slowed. Try to remain aware and make a game plan for what you would do in case of an emergency. Encourage your employees and family members to do the same.

In conclusion, providing effective safety training programs for your employees and family members is an investment of time you will never regret. Retraining is equally as important as doing onboarding training. Even employees who have worked for you for the past 20 years need a refresher on safety. Invest the time. 

Progressive Dairy, AUGUST 2022

Tags: Corn Silage, Employee Management