Easy Silage for Hobby Farms

For smallholder farmers with limited production capacity, finding enough feed in the winter months to maintain good milk production is always a problem. Many are forced to buy hay, concentrates or silage just to keep their animals alive and are unable to benefit due to the higher prices paid for animal feed in the winter months.

What is silage?
Forage which has been grown while still green and nutritious can be conserved through a natural ‘pickling’ process. Lactic acid is produced when the sugars in the forage plants are fermented by bacteria in a sealed container (‘silo’) with no air. Forage conserved this way is known as ‘ensiled forage’ or ‘silage’ and will keep for up to three years without deteriorating. Silage is very palatable to livestock and can be fed at any time.

Why silage not hay?
Forages can be made into hay to conserve the nutrients, especially protein, before they decline in the plant. However it is often too wet to dry the successfully and special machinery, has to be used to assist the forage to dry quickly. Forage crops such as maize, are too thick-stemmed to dry successfully as hay.
Silage is considered the better way to conserve forage crops. A forage crop can be cut early and only has to have 30% dry matter to be ensiled successfully. There is no need to dry out the plant material any more than that, so wet weather is not such a constraint as it is with making hay.
Silage making is long practiced by the larger agricultural sector, but the production method  relies on heavy equipment and large production, in order to dig or build storage pits and to compress the green mass, putting it beyond the reach of smallholder farmers

Advantages:

1.   Stabile composition of the feed (silage) for a longer period (up to 5 years);
2. Plants can be harvested at optimal phase of development and are efficiently used by livestock.
3. Reduction of nutrient loses which in standard hay production may amount to 30% of the dry matter (in silage is usually below 10%);
4. More economical use of plants with high yield of green mass;
5. Better use of the land with 2-3 crops annually;
6. Silage is produced in both cold and cloudy weather;
7.   The fermentation in silage reduces harmful nitrates accumulated in plants during droughts and in over-fertilized crops.
8.   Allows by-products (from sugar beat processing, maize straw, etc.) to be optimally used;
9.   Requires 10 times less storage space compared to hay;
10.   Maize silage has 30-50% higher nutritive value compared to maize grain and maize straw;
11.   2 kg of silage (70% moisture) has the equal nutritive value of 1 kg of hay.


Disadvantages:

1. 
Silage is not interesting for marketing as its value is difficult to be determined.
2. It does not allow longer transportation;
3. The weight increases manipulation costs;
4. Has considerably lower vitamin D content compared to hay.

Principle of silage making
At harvest, plant cells do not immediately “die”; they continue to respire as long as they remain adequately hydrated and oxygen is available. The oxygen is necessary for the physiological process of respiration, which provides energy for functioning cells. In this process, carbohydrates (plant sugars) are consumed (oxidized) by plant cells in the presence of oxygen to yield carbon dioxide, water and heat: sugar + oxygen ® carbon dioxide + water + heat
Once in the silo, certain yeasts, molds and bacteria that occur naturally on forage plants can also reach populations large enough to be significant sources of respiration. In the silage mass, the heat generated during respiration is not readily dissipated, and therefore the temperature of the silage rises.
Although a slight rise in temperature from 27° to 32°C is acceptable, the goal is to limit respiration by eliminating air (oxygen) trapped in the forage mass.
Some air will be incorporated into any silo during the filling process, and a slight increase in silage temperature is likely. These temperature increases can clearly be limited by harvesting at the proper moisture content and by increasing the bulk density of the silage. Generally, it is desirable to limit respiration during the fermentation process by using common sense techniques that include close inspection of the silo walls prior to filling, harvesting the forage at the proper  moisture content, adjusting the chopper properly (fineness of chop), rapid filling, thorough packing, prompt sealing and close inspection of plastics for holes. (above information taken from an article written by Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations)

My Method
Over the last few years in Tasmania (2013 to 2018) I have experimented with different silage wrapping methods for the hobby farmer including vacuum bags. Silage in round bails are made from long grass wrapped around the bail. It is therefore very difficult to feed out a small amount at a time before it goes moldy. Most can tear or don't seal appropriately letting oxygen enter and destroying the silage. Blue plastic 200L drums seem to be ideal and because the grass is cut into small pieces is easy to pull out a wedge and then replace the lid. Depending on the number of animals my drums will last two weeks. The drums when full and compressed can be a little heavy for moving around (they can be rolled). Therefore make the silage where you want it. Follow the photos below and store fully sealed.

Mowing the grass

Mow the grass with a ride on lawn mower or push mower with a catcher

Mowed

When the catcher is full

into drum

Empty into the clean drum

Loose in drum

Loose in the drum

Into the Drum

Using something to climb into the drum. I use a sawhorse

Into 2

Good idea to hang onto something like the wall or gutter for balance

Jumping Down

Fully stand in the drum stamping down the grass with your full weight

Jumping Down 2

Stamp around the edge of the drum and in the centre compressing the grass with each load

Compressing

Work as much air out of the grass as possible

Grass at Top

When you can't get any more grass into the drum its time to seal

Rubber

Note that on the underside of the lid there is a rubber seal

Sealed 1

The lid needs to be clipped to seal tightly closed.

Lid

I often use a rubber mallet to tap the black lid down as I seal it with the clip

Alternative Sealing

If you haven't got clips use some heavy object to seal the drum

Blocks

Sometimes a few are needed. I store my drums on the south side of the house where they are shaded by the sun all year round.

Feed bin for animals

I cut a drum in half length ways to create two feed bins

Animals feeding

All in for good quality silage made easily on the hobby farm

Go to top