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Corn syrup covers, protects silage pile

When people ask Andy Hall what he’s spreading on top of his silage pile after filling the bunker with silage or husklage, he could say peanut butter. What looks like peanut butter is really a thick coat of corn syrup, a coproduct of the ethanol industry. When it dries, this coat seals the pile for fermentation and keeps out rain.

It’s a cover cattle can eat. Hall says it works better than using traditional sheets of plastic and car tires to cover a silage pile. The corn syrup cover is cheaper, too. The syrup is corn distillers solubles. “You’ve heard of the livestock feed called dried distillers grains with solubles, or DDGS. Well, this is the solubles,” explains Hall.

Key Points

Ethanol coproduct provides a unique cover for silage in bunker silo.

Corn syrup is sprayed on top; it dries, seals and protects the silage pile.

Cheaper and easier to handle, syrup avoids messing with plastic and old tires.


Ethanol plants remove the liquid when making ethanol from corn as dried distillers grains are produced. The DDGS is the dry form of the livestock feed, and ethanol plants try to sell their DDGS at a consistent moisture content. So they add corn syrup, or solubles, back in when making distillers grains, which is approximately a 50% moisture content product. Hence, the name distillers dried grains with solubles.

Hall farms with his family in central Iowa. His dad, John, and brother, Ben, live on the homeplace near Elkhart. The Halls feed most of their cattle on another farm nearby, where Hall and his wife and family live. Hall does some trucking, hauling feed ingredients from ethanol plants. He knows about various feedstuffs. The Halls haul DDGS and other commodities from ethanol plants to feed their own cattle, and also haul for other livestock producers.

Beats a plastic cover

The Halls have used corn syrup as a silage pile cover the past seven years. “Previously, we had to mess with a plastic cover and old car tires to hold the plastic down on top of our bunker silo,” says Hall. “This coating of syrup is a lot less work and hassle.”

Using the coating, the Halls haven’t had a problem with spoilage. “There is a little spoilage, but it’s a trade-off,” notes Hall. “You can spend a lot of money on a plastic cover, and handling all those tires is a pain in the neck.” Also, rainwater gets in tires, attracts mosquitoes, etc. “It’s been better for us to use a corn syrup cover,” Hall adds. “If you cover a pile with plastic, occasionally a tire gets in a feed wagon or the plastic blows off. That’s fairly common in Iowa with the wind, so you can have some spoilage with a plastic cover, too. We prefer to use a corn syrup cover instead.”

The cost is less than $500 to cover the Hall’s 1,500 tons of silage with syrup. It would be double that cost, at least, for plastic if you buy good-quality plastic. “You feed the silage along with the corn syrup cover. It all goes into the feed wagon,” he notes. “Cattle like it. It’s not harmful, and once it’s on the pile, you’re done with it.”

Cover ends up being fed

The syrup cover is 100% recyclable, and the plastic isn’t. “Plastic ends up as a waste,” says Hall. “In our cattle operation, we like to use as many coproducts and recyclable materials as we can. This is another way to do that, and it’s a benefit of having an ethanol industry in Iowa. Several more cattle feeders in our area are doing this, and it works well for them.”

The syrup is delivered by a semitruck tanker; hoses are hooked up; and the product is pumped and sprayed on top the pile. How thick is it applied? “As thick as we can,” says Hall. “It depends on the syrup, which ethanol plant it comes from and the temperature.” It usually comes to the farm about the consistency of pudding; sometimes it’s more like water. That’s one of the variables. If it’s fairly high in solids and is thick, the Halls layer it on. Once it settles down to 3 to 4 inches, it makes a nice seal.

The syrup stirs itself into the top few inches of silage due to pressure of the syrup from the hose. Silage shown in the photo above is actually husklage from a seed corn processing plant, so the coating is a bit fluffier, a little drier and more porous.

The syrup works very well with husklage, and it works well with silage, too. On regular silage, which isn’t as fluffy, you need to make sure it’s more flat on top of the pile so the syrup doesn’t run off.

This use for syrup is another example of the versatility in how ethanol helps the livestock producer, says Hall. The ethanol industry does a lot of good for Iowa creating jobs. “The ethanol industry has also allowed many cattle feeders to feed a lot less of their own corn,” he adds. “They can sell their corn for cash and use lower-cost corn milling and ethanol coproducts to replace a significant amount of corn in cattle rations. That replacement has helped make cattle feeding profitable again in Iowa.”

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IT WORKS: The bunker holds 1,500 tons of silage, or husklage in this case. “The corn syrup we apply on top of the pile to seal it has worked out well,” says cattle feeder Andy Hall.

This article published in the October, 2011 edition of WALLACES FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.