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How silage production changed
in later years of the 20th century

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Silage, which is fermented hay and other green matter, was and still is essential for feeding cattle in the winter months when fresh grass is not available.

Black polythene bags of hay, lying in a field

Black polythene bags of hay, lying in a field.

Black polythene bags of hay/silage

Black polythene bags of hay stacked ready for collection as required.

Green polythene bags of hay/silage

Green polythene bags of hay/silage stacked ready for use. The farmer who owned this field said that he chose green polythene because he thought it looked nicer and that functionally it could have been any colour.

Rolls of fresh, unfermented hay for immediate use

Rolls of fresh, unfermented hay for immediate use.

In the first part of the 20th century it was produced by methods that permeated the countryside in late summer with a really noxious smell. Fortunately, later in the century silage production changed with considerable benefits to efficiency while also eliminating the smell.

The new production method was stimulated by the development of polythene, and, as I write, the same method is still used to day.

In late summer, as you drive in the country, you will notice neatly cut fields strewn across with big black polythene parcels, something like the droppings from a ginormous deer that has relieved itself from 50 or 60 feet up. These closed packages are rolls of green matter, packed ready for fermenting into silage. The green matter, these days, is a blend of special grasses and maize. Indeed fields of maize are now grown specially for the purpose.

The grass and maize mixture is not treated with molasses as with the older method of silage production, although other nutrients may be added to encourage fermentation. The mixture is just left to ferment in its own juice, aided by the heat of the sun on the polythene. It is ready for use in only a few weeks.

Tractors take the polythene packages to the edge of the field and stack them.

Then, as required, the packages are taken into the cattle sheds where the wrappings are removed and the silage contents simply unrolled into a great carpet of 'delectable' food for the cows to gently munch their way through. I imagine 'bovine bliss'!

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Advantages of modern silage production


This type of silage production is cleaner, less smelly and more efficient than the older method.

It also has advantages over storing hay in haystacks because the grass does not have to lie in the field to dry off in the same way. Whereas the grass needed to dry to 14% or less moisture content for stacking in a haystack, the grass can have as much as 35% moisture content for this type of silage.

a group of farmers at a previous
Harvesting the Old Fashioned Way

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Pat Cryer, webmaster

Page contributed by Dick Hibberd