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Salvaging Stored Wet Feed and Grain

Ken Hellevang, Agricultural Engineer
Hans Kandel, Agronomist
Charles Stoltenow, Veterinarian
Greg Lardy, Beef Specialist

Actions necessary for salvaging flood-damaged grain depend on the extent of damage to both bin and grain, so the first step is to inspect the bin, including unloading and aeration equipment, and the stored grain. Then, contact your insurance company or disaster relief agency as soon as possible to find out what you need to do to document losses.

Grains swell when wet so bin damage is likely; more so with soybeans.Bolts can shear or holes elongate. Look for signs such as stretched caulking seals, misaligned doors or similar structural problems.

Expect electric wiring, controls and fans exposed to water need to be evaluated and possibly reconditions or replaced.Do not energize wet components.Be sure the power is off before touching any electrical components of flooded systems.

Drying, Marketing and Safe Feeding

Time is of the essence in salvaging wet feed and grain. Both will begin to heat and mold very quickly, leading to spoilage as well as the possibility of spontaneous combustion. As soon as possible, remove dry portions of grain and store them separately. Dry bales of hay should be removed and restacked in a dry location since capillary action will draw water up into the stack.

Wet feeds should be presumed harmful to animals until tested. They may contain contaminants from floodwaters as well as mold spores that sometimes produce dangerous toxins.

Use Dryer if Possible

If part of a grain bin has been flooded, remove the dry grain. Unloading from the center sump may not be possible because wet grain likely will not flow. One option is unloading the grain from the top using a pneumatic conveyor or any other means.

Get the wet grain to a dryer quickly, if possible. This is the surest way to save wet grain.

If the grain depth is less than 6 feet, use a natural-air bin drying system with a perforated floor and a high-capacity drying fan. Verify that the air is coming through the grain. Supplemental heat can be used to speed drying , but do not raise the air temperature more than 10 or 15 degrees F.

If a dryer is not available, spread the grain in as dry a place as possible. Don't pile it any higher than 6 inches. Stir it daily to prevent overheating and to speed drying. Watch for and remove molded grains.

Wet grain can be ensiled if it is intended for feed and the moisture content is between 25 and 35 percent. If using a conventional silo, see your county Extension agent about treating the grain with proprionic acid to prevent mold.

Find a Local Market

If it is not possible to dry grain artificially, try to find a local market for it. Usable flood-damaged grain must be sold at a salvage price, possibly to a large livestock feeder who can use it before it spoils. The grain should be kept in airtight storage to prevent spoilage.

Guard Against Hay Fires

Flooded hay should be disposed of or used on fields as a fertilizer. It is probably unsafe for animals and not worth the time and expense of drying. Because of hay's tendency to heat and mold quickly, it should be spread out to dry as soon as possible and turned often. Hay bales that are at 30 to 40 percent moisture content pose the greatest risk of fire. Check hay storage often for pungent odors, hot damp areas on the stack, emission of water vapors and other signs of heating.

To check a stack's temperature for fire risk, drive a sharp pointed pipe into the hay, lower a thermometer inside the pipe and leave it there for about 20 minutes. At 150 degrees F, the hay is approaching the danger zone. At 170 degrees F, hot spots or fire pockets are possible. Have the fire department on standby.

Replacing Hay with Grain

If you must replace conventional roughage feeds with grain because of flooding, consider fibrous grains such as oats, barley, ground ear corn or one of the high-fiber byproducts such as brewers grains, corn gluten feed or soy hulls.

Continue to feed hay or straw unless you have had experience with high grain feeding. You must maintain a minimum amount of forage in cattle diets. Check with your nutritionist or county Extension agent for guidelines. Spread any major changes in a feeding program over a period of several days. Observe animals carefully during the transition.

Seed Grain and Silage Often a Loss

Wet seed grain will likely not be suitable for seed unless dried immediately, as wetness causes the seed to germinate. Drying air temperature should be kept under 110 degrees. Do not feed treated seed grain to livestock since it may contain toxic additives.

Flooded silage likewise will be a loss. Its waterlogged state will hurt feed value as will any contaminants from the water. Like hay, it might be spread on fields as a fertilizer.

Safety with Water-damaged Feeds

Testing. Do not feed flood-damaged grains until they are tested for mycotoxins, toxic substances produced by fungi. Ask your county Extension agent for locations of testing laboratories. Even if the feed is deemed safe to use, watch animals carefully for signs of illness.

Nutritive value. Mixed feeds, grains and roughages that have heated or spoiled will have little nutritive value for livestock, depending on the extent of the damage.

Safety. Do not feed heated, molded or sour feeds, or moldy legume hays (such as alfalfa or clover) to any livestock. Reduced performance, sickness, abortion or death may occur.

Additional Resources:

Consult your veterinarian or county Extension agent before using flood-damaged feeds.

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