Candy toppings aren't just showing up on ice cream anymore. A mix of ground candy and cereal is proving to be a useful by-product to preserve silage, ground corn and other fermentable feedstuffs.

The high-energy feed -- a blend of ground candy, cereal, and oat or soy hulls -- is spread 4-6 in. thick on top of feed in a bunker silo. Within 10 days, the sweet mixture melts together and forms a seal to keep water, the biggest deteriorator of feeds, out.

"Once it seals up it's just like an umbrella. Any rain that hits it rolls off," says Dean Hoy, sales manager for Stickle Custom Feeds. The east-central Iowa-based company has been blending and feeding throwaway human-grade food products like candies, snack foods, and breakfast cereals to hogs and cattle since 1967.

The fat in the candy and cereal helps melt the mix together and, since candy and cereal don't contain a lot of protein and carbohydrates, they won't break down, according to Hoy.

"The silage underneath absolutely will not spoil," says Hoy.

Bob Lemmer will attest to that. He first discovered the topping 10 years ago and has been covering silage and shelled corn with it for his 800-head feedlot near Monticello, IA, ever since.

"By using silo topping, not only have producers eliminated the shrink, they've also added feed value," says Hoy.

Because of the high amount of fat in the candy, the silo topping has about 15% more energy than corn to start, but after weathering for 6-9 months the energy value is about equal to corn.

Don Stickle began feeding salvage foods and grains to livestock because of that fat, seeing it as an inexpensive opportunity to add energy to his livestock diets. Today, he finishes 3,000 head of Holsteins and crossbreds annually, in addition to his custom feed business.

"In the end, producers have invested in a product that has a feed value equal to corn. And, they've made life easier on themselves by not having to deal with plastic and tires to cover their bunker silo," says Hoy.

No More Plastic Steve Recker, Hopkinton, IA, switched from plastic and tires to the silo topping two years ago. He uses the topping to cover ground ear corn in a bunker silo and feeds out 400-500 cattle a year. "With plastic, wind still got up underneath it and I had a lot of spoilage. Since I switched to the topping, I have almost no spoilage," Recker says.

"The downside to the topping is that it seems to attract birds," Recker says. Lemmer agrees, but says, "I don't know if there are any more than there would be otherwise. Any grain is simply an attractant to birds."

This year Recker purchased a boom gun that fires at different intervals to scare them off. "That's about 50 percent effective," he says.

Hoy estimates one ton of the topping is needed to cover 50 sq. ft. He says the secret to applying it is to make a rounded pile so water will run off. Recker uses a small skid loader to spread the topping.

A fibrous material like rice or soy hulls is usually mixed with the sticky candy and cereal to make the topping easier to handle. Paper wrappers are commonly found in the mix, but they're biodegradable and a source of roughage for cattle, says Hoy.

"The paper is a negative, but it's not a real problem," Lemmer says.

Stickle Custom Feeds currently markets the silo topping to about 25 livestock producers in Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois and Missouri. Stickle prices its silo topping at about $70 per ton.