Posted by: braddenvillage | May 15, 2011

What’s the difference between hay and sileage?

What is the difference between hay and sileage?

Hay Making:

Hay making is the longest established method of conserving grass for feeding cattle and sheep through the winter and has been an important function of the farming calendar in the UK for the last six thousand years. Successful haymaking relies on the crop of grass being thoroughly dried before it is baled or stored.

The first step in hay making is the mowing of the grass grop. This usually starts in late June just before flowering however, many crops are cut during flowering itself when lots of pollen is being produced (hence hay fever). Cutting must be done when the weather is fine and several continuous dry days are expected. Hay that has been rained on is of poorer quality and may be unpalatable.

After the crop has been cut it is allowed to dry in the sun. To facilitate this a tractor with a “hay bob” will drive over the cut rows to rough up the drying grass. This helps remove moisture more quickly and makes the baling operation easier to complete.

A conventional baler producing small bales (one is just emerging). Balers work by compressing the hay into a block before tying strong twines around it. Behind this baler is a red trailed sledge that collects the bales together and drops them off at a single point. These can then be picked up more quickly by the front loader and loaded onto a trailer.

A conventional bale wieghs 20kg and is about 1.2 metres in length.

Sileage Making:

Silage is a form of conserved grass (or other crop) that is made by farmers during the summer months when the grass supply is plentiful and not required for grazing. Silage is fed to cattle and sheep during winter months and is made by preserving the grass under naturally produced acidic conditions which effectively pickle the crop. Silage is quite moist and usually preferred by livestock to hay as it is more palatable and of higher food value. It often forms the bulk of the livestock diet for six months of the year through the winter months.

Grass silage is usually produced by stock farmers two or three times a year, however it is the first cut of grass in late May that is the most important. Growth at this time of year is vigorous and the grass is rich in energy as it produces leaf rather than going to seed. Grass crops for silage are fertilised to increase production and can look very much like a conventional arable crop. The image illustrates grass ready for silage making and is typical of the many hundreds of thousands of hectares that are conserved each year.

The first process in the production of silage is mowing. Here a mower is cutting a grass crop that is about 60cm tall. The mower width will vary according to local field sizes but all mowers cut the grass into lines known as a swath which can easly be picked up by a forage harvester (a machine that picks up the cut grass).

Forage harvesters have a series of rotating tines that lift the grass from the ground before feeding it into a chopper. The chopper cuts the grass to a predetermined length before blowing the cut material into a trailer for tansport to the storage area.

In the farm yard the grass is deposited in a heap (the clamp) and pushed up by a handler into a large pile.The process of building the clamp involves the removal of as much air from the grass as possible and to do this the loader or a tractor will repeatedly drive over the clamp.

Most silage clamps are covered with black plastic sheets. Special attention has to be made to ensure that air cannot get into the clamp, either from the top or around the edges. If air does get into the clamp the grass will not ensile properly and the resultant silage will be of poor nutritional quality and of low palatability. At the conclusion of sheeting hundreds of tyres will be used to hold the sheet firm and to maintain the airtight finish until the time of use in the winter.

For more on this subject, click here, to go to UK Agriculture’s website

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