Normally we can grow and bale plenty of hay in the spring, summer, and fall to feed our cows through the winter. The summer of 2012 was a little different. Southwestern Indiana (and most of the midwest) was hit by a bad drought. Our cows are usually on pasture all summer, but this year we had to feed them hay because the grass in the pasture didn’t grow. Which also meant that the grass in the hay fields didn’t grow. We were afraid that we were going to be short on hay this winter, so we needed to come up with other options to keep our girls fed and happy in the cold weather.
So we tried our hands at silage for the first time! Silage is made from corn plants. Instead of just picking the ear (like you would for sweet corn or field corn), the entire plant is harvested and chopped into small pieces. The chopped corn gets put in a giant pile, covered with tarps, and left alone for a while. The timing depends on the amount of corn that has been chopped, and the area of your pile. You want to keep all the air out of your silage pile so it ferments. (Sort of like making beer or wine. Sort of. But not as yummy at the end.)
When it’s ready, silage has a very distinctive smell. It smells like fermented corn. Sort of sour, sort of spicy… It’s hard to describe. It really just smells like silage.
Anyway, it should also have this straw/golden-brown color. Think of it as corn flakes for cows. (Actually, it’s pretty sweet. Maybe it’s more like frosted flakes for cows.)
We have been using this silage pile for a few weeks to keep the girls fed. We uncover the part we need, scoop out what we’re going to feed that day, and then pull the tarp back down tight over the rest of the silage to keep it fresh for the next day.
We use a tractor to scoop out one day’s worth of silage at a time.
When the corn plants are fermenting, the silage gets very warm. As Farmer Doc stirs up the silage pile with the tractor bucket the steam escapes from the warm center of the pile.
Other than the sour smell, this might make for a good facial!
I take that back. I got a bunch of steam and silage in my face taking this shot. Not a good facial at all.
The silage gets piled in the back of the wagon, and we take it down the hill to the cows.
(This “wagon” is actually a manure spreader. This is not how most people feed silage. But since this was our first year, and we only planned on feeding silage for 4-6 weeks, we made due with equipment that we already had and could borrow. If we start feeding silage more often, we’ll need to invest in some different storage and feeding equipment. For this year, this setup is working just fine.)
The cows are in a pasture down the hill and across the road from where the silage pile is stored. They heard the tractor start up, and were keeping an eye to see when it would be headed in their direction.
They know what this wagon is bringing, and they head right over!
Farmer Doc turns on a series of belts in the wagon, and the silage is dumped out on the ground behind him.
The cows come right up to the back of the wagon. They know this is the good stuff!
Farmer Doc spreads the silage in a line across the pasture so there is plenty of room for all the cows to eat at the same time.
Even the calves get into it. They know to stay towards the back of the line so they don’t get trampled by the big mamas.
“Hey! I don’t watch you eat, do I? Don’t judge me!”
Did I mention that we do all of this while slopping around in the mud? Yep. It’s muddy. You’ll definitely want to have your big-girl boots on when you do this job!
What did you have for breakfast today?