Stay Safe When Making Silage

May 20, 2021
Making silage can be a dangerous time on farms. Take steps to eliminate or control hazards and keep everyone safe.

Machinery dangers

Machinery is powerful, and accidents can happen quickly. Make sure to follow all safety protocals. That means you should never repair machinery while it's running. Always switch it off, isolate it from the source of power and make sure it has stopped before you try to unplug a blower pipe or fix a broken part.

Keep machine guards and shields in place at all times. They're there for your protection. Bypassing guards and shields can leave operators exposed to rotating shafts, chain and v-belt drives, gears and pully wheels and more. 

If you're driving a tractor or truck, make sure to adjust your rearview mirrors so you can see what's behind you. Install back-up warning alarms to keep everyone safe.

When filling a bunker silo or drive-over pile, don't let anyone in or near the pile. Make sure everyone -- especially children -- know the rules and are a safe distance away.

Fall from height

Bunker silos and drive-over piles can be a risk for falls. It's important to install guardrails on all above-ground level walls and to use caution when removing plastic, tires, tire sidewalls and gravel bags from the top of the pile. Avoid standing near the walls or the edge of the feedout face.

Use equipment operating from the ground level to remove surface-spoiled silage from the surface of bunkers and piles, and never allow a person to ride in the bucket of a front-end loader to take samples from the silage feedout face.

Avalance or collapsing silage

Silage avalances are dangerous and unpredictable. A chunk of a silage feedout face can break off and fall in a fraction of a second, which can be deadly for anyone standing beneath it. The taller the silage face, the more dangerous it is.

Although you can't stop silage avalanches from happening, you can follow some safety guildelines to prevent people from being trapped underneath them. Following are guidelines that can decrease the chance of having a serious accident caused by collapsing silage.

  • Never allow people to stand near the feedout face. A good rule of thumb is to never stand closer to the silage face than three times its height.
  • Follow the "buddy rule." That means never work in or near a bunker or pile by yourself. 
  • Bunker silos and drive-over piles should not be filled higher than the unloading equipment can reach safely. For most unloaders, that's 12 to 14 feet.
  • Do not "pitch" spoiled silage. It is simply too dangerous to remove spoilage from the top of many bunkers and piles. Only remove spoiled silage with equipment operated safely from the ground.
  • Use proper unloading techniques, which includes shaving silage down the feedout face.
  • Never "dig" the bucket into the bottom of the silage. Undercutting creates an overhang of silage that can loosen and fall to the ground. Never drive the unloader parallel to and in close proximity of the feedout face.
  • When sampling silage, take samples from a loader bucket after it is moved a safe distance away from the feedout face.
  • Never park vehicles or equipment near teh feedout face.
  • When working in or on an overfilled bunker or pile, always wear a harness connected to a safety line. 
  • Wear a safety vest when working around silage.
  • Post warning signs saying, "Danger! Silage Face Might Collapse" around the perimeter of a bunker or pile. If the bunker or pile is in a  remote area on the farm, fence in the perimeter and posta  sign saying, "Danger: Do Not Enter. Authorized Personnel Only."


Rollovers account for about half of the approximately 200 tractor-related fatalities reported every year in the United States. Filling bunker silos and drive-over piles can pose serious risks. Always follow safety precautions to avoid rollovers.
  • Use safety equipment. Roll-over protective structures (ROPS) create a zone of protection around the tractor operator. When used with a seat belt, ROPS prevent the operator from being thrown from the protective zone and crushed.
  • Never fill bunker silos higher than the top of the wall. A straight drop off a bunker silo wall is a significant risk.
  • Install sight rails on above-ground walls. These rails show the tractor operator the location of the wall, but they aren't designed to hold an overturning tractor.
  • Install lights on the rail if you're going to be filling the bunker silo at night.
  • When filling a bunker silo or drive-over pile, form a progressive wedge of forage. This provides a safe slope for packing.
  • Maintain a minimum slope of 1-in-3 on the sides and ends of a drive-over pile.
  • Back tractors up steep slopes to prevent roll-backs.
  • Use low-clearance, wide front-end tractors equipped with well lugged tires to prevent slipping.
  • Never use large rectangular or round hay or straw bales for temporary bunker walls.
  • Add weights to the front and back of tractors to improve stability. (This will also improve packing efficiency.)
  • When using front-end loadesr to move forage to the bunker or pile, do not carry the bucket any higher than necessary to help keep the center of gravity low.
  • When using two or more pack tractors, establish a driving procedure to prevent collisions.

David Cramer