Farming silage Yeo Valley Organic Farms Farming silage Yeo Valley Organic Farms

Silage Season

These long warm summer days mean one thing for us on the farm – it is time to start preparing for winter! Although the cows are now happily munching on luscious green pastures, that won’t be the case once the evenings draw in and the cooler temperatures halt grass growth. As the saying goes, make hay while the sun shines – or in our case, silage.

Our cows graze outdoors during the warmer spring, summer and autumn months

Silage is a fermented feed (that’s right, our cows have been on a fermented diet long before it became trendy). Grass is preserved through fermentation and we use this to feed the cows from late autumn until early spring.

We mow the grass when the weather is warm and sugars levels are high – we find that after lunch is the best time for this. The sugars help the grass to ferment and the acid produced during fermentation prevents any spoilage. A high sugar content means lots of energy for the cows.

Grass is spread across the field and left to wilt in the sun

After the grass is mowed, we spread it across the field to let it wilt in the sun for 24-36 hours. Wilting is an important stage of the process necessary to reduce moisture content ensuring effective preservation. After the wilted grass is gathered, it must be compressed so that oxygen levels are kept to a minimum.

The grass is then piled high in ‘the clamp’ – a clean, airtight concrete construction. Tractors roll over the top to compress the heap and the weight of the tractors helps to compact the cut grass and remove oxygen. Covering the grass with an air-proof film protects the surface of the silage from oxidation and helps to avoid nutrient loss. After 6 weeks the silage is ready to use as feed, but we tend to leave it there a little longer than that.

The nutrient levels of grass vary at different times of the year. Grass grown in early summer has a high sugar level while late summer grass tends to be richer in protein. Creating a silage mix containing four different cuts ensures the feed contains an assortment of nutrients.

We grow all different types of grass and herbs on the farm, from ryegrass to clover

Of course, it is not just your traditional blades of grass that go into this silage mix. We include varieties of ryegrass, timothy and cocksfoot, along with herbs such as red clover, chicory and plantain. This is all 100% organic with no artificial fertiliser or chemical sprays used. The final feed contains a balance of protein and energy from the different species in the mixture – we are not the only ones who get to enjoy a balanced diet!

Comments on “Silage Season”

  • Very interesting as I did not know what went into silage.

    Patricia on 19th August 2020 at 9:07 am

  • Thankyou for this brilliant information on silage, have worked at the National Institute for Dairying, many years ago, and AI Centre all at Shinfield, Berkshire – now all gone, and never had any idea what a lot of work and planning goes into making silage.

    Christine on 12th August 2020 at 11:46 am

  • Very interesting – thank you.

    kate on 12th August 2020 at 10:49 am

  • Beautiful and very interesting description. I could visualise it, I wish I could take my toddler son one day to see it for real. Thank you

    Deborah on 11th August 2020 at 8:56 pm

  • This was so interesting. I know about grass being rolled and then clad in black plastic, but that was where my knowledge ended. Not any more though.

    Rosemary Fox on 11th August 2020 at 7:54 pm

  • Is it no longer stored in silos? In the 40’s my Grandfather (S W Lancs) only baled it as hay. Later inthe 70’s a local farmer I thought stored grass silage in tall metal silos. Has this practice moved on?

    Charles on 11th August 2020 at 6:41 pm

    • Thanks for getting in touch.

      Yes, the practice has moved on in recent years and metal silos are no longer in wide use. As farm sizes, machinery, and crops have gotten bigger, the air has been excluded using plastic wrap rather than metal vessels. We use large concrete bunkers which the grass is rolled in to and the plastic film sheets are used to keep it airtight.

      Best wishes,
      De.

      deirdrehayes on 21st August 2020 at 5:42 pm

  • I was a bit vague about silage but now l know &l too found it very interesting ,particularly about the varying nutritional benefits if grass over the growing season.also fascinating to know how compression & reducing air contact keeps it in top condition till you need it for the gorgeous cows.Great photos too .l felt l was there !

    Janette on 11th August 2020 at 4:46 pm

  • Wonderfully informative 🙂

    Studio Noodles on 11th August 2020 at 4:40 pm

  • I’m originally from Norfolk so knew roughly what silage was. Your article has not only jogged my memory but through its very clear explanation, added to my knowledge. Many thanks.
    Lyn

    Lyn on 11th August 2020 at 2:54 pm

  • Covering the cut grass with air proof film for storage

    Is this done by hand?

    Everything else is tractor, machinery.

    Abdul on 11th August 2020 at 2:47 pm

    • Hi Abdul,

      Thank you for your question.

      The plastic sheet is put on by hand. It takes a team of people to roll the sheet out and secure it.The rest of the process is carried out by machines.

      Best wishes,
      De.

      deirdrehayes on 21st August 2020 at 5:30 pm

  • I am now living in Suffolk with fields all around me so this is all new to me. Thank you for the easy way you have explained silage to me, I realise there’s a lot to learn and at 63 this is another thing I knew nothing about.

    June Bruford on 11th August 2020 at 1:31 pm

  • Fantastic to be able to learn what’s going on at the farm all year round, thank you so much. It helps to fill in the background and bigger picture of where our food really comes from and how it can be produced naturally and healthily. Would love to be able to get my hands dirty on a farm!
    Keep them coming please😁👍

    Fiona Staples on 11th August 2020 at 1:25 pm

  • so pleased you make your silage without the use of plastic.

    Mike Pidsley on 11th August 2020 at 12:00 pm

  • Farming is fascinating when you know how -thanks for explaining the silage making process!

    Helen on 11th August 2020 at 11:10 am

  • This is really interesting and encouraging, it’s wonderful to see everything done organically, that’s how it should be!

    Janet on 11th August 2020 at 10:29 am

  • I love this article. I have always wondered exactly what silage contained and now I know. Very interesting to read. Thank you.

    kim on 25th July 2020 at 8:32 am

  • Found this very interesting!

    Joy on 22nd July 2020 at 10:43 pm

  • This is all extremely interesting. I may be nearly 85, but I still aim to learn something every day. I love animals, and love to see them in the countryside, but realise there’s a lot more to farming than meets the eye.

    Shirley on 6th July 2020 at 8:52 am

  • Thanks, I never knew what silage was and found this very interesting and informative

    lynda on 4th July 2020 at 3:34 pm

  • I’ve never had silage explained in such a wonderful way before. Very interesting.

    Paul on 2nd July 2020 at 7:53 am

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