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.
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.
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.
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!