The first May bank holiday (8th May 2020) we spent the whole weekend working in our garden, pulling up weeds, cutting down trees and hedges, building stone walls and fixing the washing machine. Due to lockdown, there’s not much else we could do but the weather was good so we made the best of it and got lots done, which is a blessing in disguise really. We really wouldn’t have got half the stuff done that we have, if it wasn’t for Coronavirus. The first May bank holiday was held on a Friday this year to celebrate the 75th VE Day. We celebrated with a cream tea picnic for lunch which was lovely.
The last May bank holiday, (25th May 2020) in fact that whole weekend was spent cutting all the grass (230 acres) on the farm and it got me thinking. I wanted to share the whole process with you all, so here goes;
Preserving feed for livestock isn’t sun-dried hay like it used to be (in the good old days). Silage is made as a chopped, fermented feed source for animals. Silage is made by putting the chopped grass into a pit and packing it down well so that any oxygen pockets are eliminated. Oxygen pockets encourage the feed to go off.
The first step to making silage is to prepare and plan. Timing is everything, especially weather wise so that you get the crop cut at the right stage for the best feed quality possible. Having the correct equipment in good working order is always a plus too! There needs to be some purchases made before hand, like additive and silage plastic to cover the pit at the end of the process. The silage pit (or clamp) also needs to be emptied and cleaned in preparation for the big day of collecting the cut grass from the fields.
Next you have to cut the grass. Just like in your garden we use large sized mowers to cut our fields. On our farm, Gavin has one on the front of his tractor and two behind him, whilst his dad has one on the back for easy access into each of the nooks and crannys on the edges of the fields (the headlands). Once all the grass has been cut we allow the swaths to wilt down for a day (24 hours) before harvesting, depending on the weather forecast. Sometimes we use a tedding out machine to turn the grass over to help with the drying process.
Harvesting the crop. The contractors come to help us pick our grass up and bring it to the clamp. A forager (forage harvester) is used to chop up, pick up and feed the cut grass out through a long, tall spout that can literally spit out the feed at quite a distance. The spout then throws the cut grass into trailers specially made for this process and are able to carry lots of grass at any one time. Once the trailer is full, it takes the freshly chopped forage to the silage pit to drop off the load. There’s usually three to four trailers lined up ready to go so that the person operating the forage harvester doesn’t need to stop. The first truck will then return to the queue when they’ve dropped off their load and the process repeats.
Packing the silage. The silage clamp needs to be packed down during the harvesting to help with the fermentation. A buck-rake is used to drive up and down the collected grass, to put the grass into the correct areas and to make sure every bit of space is used. The best way to tell if you have done a good packing job is when you can’t sink your fingers into the pile of grass.
Covering the pile. This needs to be done as soon as possible after the harvest. A polyethylene plastic that is black on both sides is used. We also use a cling film underneath the black sheet to help stop oxygen leaching onto the surface. Finally we weigh the plastic down well with numerous recycled tyres all over the top of the pile. Tyres are used as they are gentler on the plastic to prevent punctures, if this happens it can be a serious danger for feed spoilage.
And that’s it, I think I’ve covered the whole process and I hope that you enjoyed this weeks post too.