CAUTION! Increased silo gas threat
Dairy Focus Support – Morgan Westover, [email protected]
Animal Nutrition Marketing Intern – Kristen Burkhardt
Caution! We have seen droughts at different points throughout this growing season in many areas across the country. A side effect of drought, especially in corn and small grains, is the threat of silo gas exposure. Silo gas can be a threat in silos, bunkers, and other types of feed storage. This can be dangerous for not only you and your employees, but your cows too.
How does silo gas form?
Nitrogen is brought up through the roots from the soil and is stored in the corn plant. In dry years, it is more common to see a larger amount of nitrogen stored in the plant. Once the nitrogen-filled corn stalk is chopped and packed, a chemical change occurs and can give off gaseous by-products. This includes Nitrogen dioxide (NO2), the most abundant silo gas. If a human breathes this in, it will go straight to their lungs and can be very dangerous or fatal.
This is a timely topic coming into the Fall. Here are some ways you can get ahead and prevent exposure on your farm:
- If you see an orange, yellow, brown, or reddish cloud near your feed center – stay away! Create a sign ahead of time to bring awareness to your employees as well.
- An ammonia or bleach-like odor helps indicate a high concentration of silo gas. Be cautious, wear a mask around your feed bunks. This is recommended for 1-4 weeks after your silage has been cut.
- Cut your corn at least 12” high, especially if you have experienced a drought. This will help avoid the largest concentration of nitrates within the corn stalk.
What if I am exposed to silo gas?
- Find fresh air as soon as possible! You might not start having symptoms until several hours after you were exposed. Once you find fresh air, you might have a burning sensation in your nose. Regardless, find medical help immediately.
- Ensure others know to not approach the feed bunk.
What about the cows?
Forages high in nitrates could cause significant health impacts to cattle that consume them.
Morgan Westover, Dairy Focus Support, mentions when too much nitrate is consumed, it further accumulates in the rumen as nitrite and is absorbed in the blood stream. The nitrite reacts with the iron in the red blood cells and the red blood cells can no longer bind to oxygen.
Within a couple of hours, you could visually notice abdominal pain, weakness, muscle tremors, drooling, blue discoloration of the mouth, mouth breathing, abortions, collapse, coma, or even death.
Stay educated on this topic, be cautious during and after cutting your corn silage, pay attention to smells and colored clouds, and communicate with everyone to stay on the same page.
Work with your Dairy Focus Consultant to create a safety plan to help prevent silo gas exposure during your fall harvest. And, take our Actionable Safety Review to find more ways to advance your farm’s safety.