Make Hay (and silage) while the sun shines!

Grass Fed Beef Silage

As the old saying goes ‘Make Hay While The Sun Shines’!!

Whilst this hot weather is less than ideal for our cattle it has been absolutely perfect for making hay and silage. It has been brilliant to get these jobs done in a long weather window rather than racing incoming rain!

We make our grass into three different things which all have their own purpose;

1, Clamp Silage – this is what you will see in big heaps and pits, sheeted down with black polythene and covered in tyres. To make this grass is mown one day and is then raked up into long lines straight afterwards. The next day the ‘silage team’ arrive. This involves a very large machine called a forager, a team of tractors and trailers (we usually have three working) then another another two tractors who will work the grass in the silage pit. The forager is essentially an extremely expensive grass hoover!! It drives along picking up the cut grass from the ground, chops the grass and fires it out of the spout and into the trailer. This part requires the forager driver and tractor driver to work in tandem so none of the grass misses the trailer, the vehicles drive side by side very close to each other so team work and concentration is key. Once each trailer is full the tractor will head back to the farm to unload and the next empty trailer will pull alongside the forager. In Cornwall our roads are not designed for tractors to pass so careful planning and radio calls between tractors is needed! Once back at the farm each trailer is emptied off the side of the pit and is moved into a heap with a tractor using a ‘buck rake’. This implement lifts and pushes the grass. Then another tractor will work alongside which will roll the grass into the heap. This is essential as the more the grass is compacted the more air is removed from the pit. This is key to good quality silage. Once all the grass is safely in the pit it takes the whole team to ‘sheet it down’. This involves covering the whole heap in a double layer of polythene which in turn creates an airtight seal. Once airtight the grass will slowly start to ferment and turn from green to brown. This will be the main food source for our young cattle and finishing stocking through the winter months.

2, Round Bale Silage – These bales are made initially in the same way as the clamp silage but instead of the grass being picked up and chopped by the forager it is instead simply collected up and made into bales. Bales are then wrapped and stacked. A similar fermentation process then occurs. We use these to feed our cattle who we keep outside until January. The bales will supplement the kale they also graze. We will also feed them to our in calf cows when they first come in for the winter.

3, Hay – This is a more lengthy process! Grass is mown one day and left to wilt. Then over the next few days depending on the breeze and temperature the grass is turned daily using a machine called a ‘tedder’. Hay is ready to be baled when it is beautifully dry. We bale our hay into large round bales but it is frequently baled into small bales which can be moved by hand. We use the hay to feed our breeding cows from January onwards as they approach calving.

As we only feed our cattle grass it is absolutely essential that we get our winter feed spot on. This ensures that the cattle will have all the nutrients they need to see them through the winter months whilst they are housed.