Please don't think I am 'trying to teach my grandmother to suck eggs' as we say, but it has struck me over the past few weeks, both on my blog and chatting to friends here, that people really don't understand the difference between hay and silage.
In the old days, when fertilising the fields meant spreading the 'muck' from the cattle etc. and when the cattle, certainly here in The Dales, spent their winters inside in the small barns dotted around the fields, the farmers made hay. The grass would not be as plentiful as it is now with all the artificial fertilisers which are put on early in the year, and sometimes, if they were unlucky, they would only get one crop. Two crops was considered a bonus.
The hay would be baled in small bales and stored in a section of the small barns, so that each morning the farmer could go in and fill the hay racks for the cattle. They would be let out once a day for water (and how they loved that). Before the days of balers the hay would be forked into the back of these barns and the farmer;s father would always go round the edges of the field and gather in the bits and pieces, so that none was wasted.
Any spare hay would be stored on pallets in a hay barn - or made into a haystack which would be thatched before the winter to keep it as dry as possible.
Farmers still make hay up here. My farmer makes it because it is his favourite job on the farm (sense of nostalgia?). Folk up here who only own one field, particularly if they have a horse or two, make hay and store it for the winter feed.
But the majority of farmers make silage. Here in The Dales it used to be all small farms, but as they are sold off when farmers die or retire, so these small farms tend to be added to existing farms in the locality. The herds of milking or suckler cattle are increasing in size and huge quantities of winter feed are required.
Usually the first thing they do is to fill a silage clamp with what we call 'forage' - grass which is cut, gathered up and put into a clamp, which is often covered with plastic and then weighted down with something like old tyres, to 'cure' before the winter. The clamp is often near to the winter-housing so that the cattle can help themselves.
The rest of the silage (two or three cuts over the summer, depending upon the weather) is baled up - in either square or round bales, wrapped in plastic and stored on the farm.
So often I hear people saying the hay in the field looks good, when it is really a silage crop. So I thought I would clear that up once and for all.
Fridays come round quickly - my morning coffee with a group of friends day - so I am putting this on before I go. Later in the day the farmer and I have to go to Hospital in Middlesbrough for the farmer to have a lot of balance tests, so it will be a busy day.