Silage Season Safety - Processing & Packing

Photo from Flickr - See credits below
It's impossible to thoroughly cover all critical safety information in a short period of time.  Be sure to always seek out OTHER critical information and resources on harvest season and silage/silo related safety 

When you’re processing and putting up silage in any type of structure, it’s a complicated job, and potentially dangerous.  

Silo Gas
  • Let’s talk silo gas for a minute – also known as nitrogen dioxide.  It’s a normal part of the silage making process.  We start to see this gas a few hours to a day or so after a silo is filled – And then it’s produced for about 2-2.5 weeks
    Silo gas is created in ANY type of silage storage
    system, but is a particular problem in tower silos.
    depending on conditions – Silo gas is produced
    in ALL kinds of silos – tower silos, bunkers, piles, bags – the biggest issue however, is when it’s a confined space.  This could be in a tower silo, an adjoining room, the chute or in the space between silo bags.
  • In the air, nitrogen dioxide has a faint yellowish color though in low light conditions, you probably won’t see it…It smells a bit like bleach.  It is very irritating -- even a few breaths can cause serious health problems.
  • Avoid silo gas, especially during that initial three-week post-harvest window. Treat a tower silo and areas surrounding stored silage as a confined space.  Ventilate thoroughly – generally with the blower.  Get more information – entering any confined space incorrectly has deadly consequences.
Bunker Silo Rollovers & Other Issues
  • There are special hazards with packing a bunker silo.  Some great detailed information can be found in this piece from Penn State on horizontal silo safety.
  • Tractor rollovers occur every season while people are packing bunkers and piles – It’s critical that you select the right tractor – it MUST have a ROPS (rollover protective structure) and a seatbelt.
  • A wide front-end is also an absolute must. Front-wheel and front wheel-assist tractors provide extra traction and stability for packing. Duals usually increase stability as well as appropriately-placed weights.
  • Backing a tractor up ANY slope is preferred – you achieve better stability AND CONTROL.  
  • On a slope – as you fill a bunker, make sure your packed, wedge-shaped surfaces are not too steep – We generally talk about a safe slope being 3 to 1 or something even less steep. On a pile or bunker that’s 20 feet high, you need a wedged surface do drive up that’s at least 60 feet long in the horizontal direction.  Anything less, and you run a great chance of rolling a tractor.
  • There are many other precautions to take with your employees and family members who are working at this time…Like these:
    • Only experienced people should be permitted to operate equipment.
    • Require all equipment operators to remain in their vehicles to avoid being run over.
    • Keep visitors and children out of ANY farm work zone.  A packing operation seems cool and fun to watch - but operators have a lot to pay attention to, and the chaos associated with visitors and bystanders can be very distracting.
    • Have workers wear brightly colored safety vests or t-shirts to increase visibility.
This post was originally developed to support a series of silage harvest-related podcasts posted by colleague Liz Binversie of Brown County, UW-Extension.  This one is written to connect to the podcast covering processing and packing.

Photo Credits:
Silage packing pictures -- Creative Commons --
Link to license -
Silo gas photo from personal collection.

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