Why silage?(just curious)

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Yet another night up too late!It seems that if I get on forum at night,I'm on here way too long!

The other day I was reading info about Youngs Dairy in Yellow Springs (Oh).In the info,it was stated how much one milk producing cow must eat(a seemingly shocking amount!),and it mentioned pounds of silage. Then went on to describe what silage is,but it didn't say WHY they feed silage.Does the fermentation process make it more nutritious or more digestible or something?

Thanks for indulging my curiousity! May the Lord bless you, ~~~Tracy~~~

P.S. At least I know what silos are for now-I always thought they were for storing dry corn or something.

-- Tracy Jo Neff (tntneff@ifriendly.com), August 23, 2000


Tracy, about silos - you were right in the first place. As I know it, silage is made and stored (in stacks or "clamps" or pits) so that it is accessible to bulk-handling equipment. I understand it can be made and stored using silos as well, but I'm just talking about what I know of.

Silage is just another way of storing excess pasture or at least herbage. You can cut it for hay and pray it doesn't rain and dry it and pray it doesn't rain and rake it and pray it doesn't rain and bale it and pray it doesn't rain and gather and store the bales and heave a vast sigh of relief - or lose it or at least have it damaged if the prayers weren't answered to your ideal. Or you can bow to the inevitable, cut it and store it anaerobically, and let it rot (sort of) under control. I'm not a silage expert, but I've seen analyses that say that for ruminants silage is marginally less nutritious than hay. More trouble to make, more trouble to store, but it doesn't have all those extra vulnerable steps, and you can make silage where hay would be likely to be ruined.

-- Don Armstrong (darmst@yahoo.com.au), August 24, 2000.

Yes, souring the food does make it easier to digest and makes more nutrients available to the animals.


The history of making silage began many years ago. Long before refrigeration. It used to be that milk was unavailable to consumers in the city during the winter months, because farmers were not able to have them on green pasturage during those months. Consequently milk production went down. Farmers looked for a solution and came up with storing their green pasture by making silage, only it wasn't made in those tall round towers we see today. Silos started off as pits in the ground. But that wasn't adequate. They found out that the corners where it was hard to push down the feed to extract air, would rot instead of sour. (It is sort of the same idea as making old fashioned pickles with out the vinegar. Perhaps that is where they got the idea.) So they tried other types of bins, pits and started coming up with the round form. With the round form, you have less chance of having air pockets where the silage will rot. The pits in the ground finally developed into pits above ground and then the silos we see today; Summer pasturage was preserved through the winter, milk production kept up through the winter months, city people got their milk and farmers had a full year market. If you would like more detail on this history I will look it up in one of my books.

-- R. (thor610@yahoo.com), August 24, 2000.

Around here silo's are used to store chopped field corn. The corn was chopped into self unloading wagons and blow up a pipe into the silo. Dad used to tell about some of his neighbors years ago who put an open jug in the bottom of the silo and had corn whiskey in the spring. The corn "works" or cures and I think it has about the same nutritional value as ground corn. I think silo's came into being because farmers didn't have a way to dry corn other than corn on the cog in bins. Dad used to feed silage and ground corn/oats, and hay to the dairy cows and feeder steers. It was my job, every morning throughout the winter to climb up the silo and pitch down a certain about each day. Had to be careful, silage would freeze to the side of the silo and if it warmed up it would fall. Also many times we would hear of a death of a farmer because he went into the silo while it was working and the gases were poisonous. Many farmers built the bluestone silos in the sixties. They were sealed kinda like a canning jar and there was less spoilage of the silage. The "pitcher" also had to be careful not to pitch down any moldy silage to feed. It would make a cow bloat quicker than skat. And people wonder why farm kids were so dependable and hard working. Not only did we have work to do every day, but lives depended on our being attentive and careful. By the way, loved the smell of fresh silage!

Many of the farmers here are also using the silo's to store high moisture shelled corn. It can then be fed to livestock like silage.

-- Betsy (betsyk@pathwaynet.com), August 24, 2000.

Cutting silage/ was a big event on our farm! We cut corn with a silage cutter that blew into the back of our grain trucks/ when one truck was full the next truck was waiting to drive under to take it's place. In the silo(tall round/ upright) was one man who walked on the silage as it was augured up into the silo. The guy who walked on the silage was the packer. I use to drive a silage truck & I couldn't reach the gas/ brake / & clutch petales/ so I rolled down the window & ran my arm back in the vent window so I had some way to hold my self up far enough to see out & reach the petals/ I started driving when I was probably 9 or 10 years old or before. All the neighbors helped each other when we cut silage. We had a big crew & there were chickens to kill & pies to bake to feed all the crew. In the winter every morning I would be on the tractor pulling my oldier brother Gary in the silage truck to get it started/ as he yelled & screamed at me to go faster to get it started. I was so little my feet would not reach the clutch & brake on the old tractor either--so I had to slide out of the seat & as far forward as I could to drive that old farmald tractor. It was cold & usually snowing & every morning it was the same thing--after we got the feeding done it was milk the cows as we had a dairy. When I married my hubby the one thing I asked was PLEASE DON'T MAKE ME PULL YOU WITH ANYTHING / we were married about 2 weeks when he asked me to help him pull a truck home! ha. I loved the smell of that silage--but I also remember it blowing in my window as I drove truck/ behind the cutter & how it made you itch. I agree everyone had to help--we grew up doing it & never even thought anything about it---kids now have sports/ cheerleading & lots of events we never could be a part of as we were working at home on the farm! Don't think it hurt me any either! Sonda in Ks.

-- Sonda (sgbruce@birch.net), August 24, 2000.

The book, Wood, Brick and Stone, The North American Settlement Landscape, Volume 2: Barns and Farm Structures by Allen G. Noble has an entire chapter devoted to The Diffusion and Evolution of the Silo.

If anyone is interested I can scan it and send it to you personally, but without the pictures. Please email me personally.

-- R. (thor610@yahoo.com), August 24, 2000.

In addition to silage (wet), there is haylage (moist). Silage is usually corn based with the entire plant, including the ears, chopped up. Haylage is usually something like alfalfa which is allowed to wilt, but not dry, after being cut. Sometimes other things are added as it is blown into the silo to either help preserve it or improve it. The big blue silos you see are normally air-tight storage vessels. Some love them, some hate them.

When we lived on the two diary farms in Wisc. I was really too young to be assigned much work other than bringing in the cows from the field. My other brother was the one who had to go up in the silo before and after school to pitch it down. He hated it, but then he has pretty well hated work all of his life. One spring task was to pull a stoneboat around the field. The tractor (probably a Ford 8N) would be set for creeper speed and my younger sister and I (about 4-6 years old)would steer while the four older kids pitched rocks into the stoneboat. Another job which wasn't particularly enjoyed.

You can make your own silage/haylage on a small scale. Run it through a yard chipper and then pack in airtight storage containers.

-- Ken S. in TN (scharabo@aol.com), August 24, 2000.

Thanks ever so much for all the neat info and stories! You guys are great!~~~Tracy~~~

-- Tracy Jo Neff (tntneff@ifriendly.com), August 24, 2000.

One other reason for making silage is the palatability, the cattle go crazy for it. On my dad's farm we used to chop haylage, oatlage, silage, and I think one year we even put up cane (really tall milo). That was always one of my favorite jobs. I usually hauled in with a tractor and wagon. Dad ran the silage cutter, two or three guys hauled with tractors pulling wagons, we'd drive alongside the cutter and 'catch' it in the wagons. Then my brother would usually be on the pit with the big end-loader and one of the neighbors would pack the pile with yet another tractor. Quite a production. The tall blue silos that you see are called Harvestores. A 20' diameter one 80' tall would have cost around $70,000 in the late 1970's, pretty much the same price as around 40 acres of Iowa's finest. There were a lot of people who put those things up that went broke in the '80's and had to quit farming. Around here they are known as "The Gravemarker's of cattle feeding in Iowa".

-- dave (IA) (tidman@midiowa.net), August 25, 2000.

Where my hubby is from, it's referred to as "INsilage". Took me a while to figure out what they were talking about! Jan

-- Jan in Colorado (Janice12@aol.com), August 25, 2000.

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