Saturday, 22 June 2013

To Everything there is a Season.

One of my favourite passages from The Bible - particularly in the Authorised Version - is the piece which begins, "To everything there is a season."  It is as true today as it was when it was first written.   And I think these things are more apparent when one lives in the country.   I know birth and death happen everywhere but many of the things listed are countryside things.  And, of course, in the days when it was written much of life was lived in the countryside.

In farming the circle is continuous - a season for the cattle going out, a season for them coming in, a season for sowing the corn, a season for harvesting - and so it goes on, coming round from year to year.

At present it is the season for cutting the grass, and in these 'modern' days  that means making it into silage.   The days when all the grass cut was made into hay are long gone.   I do remember as a child travelling from the hay field back to the farm riding on top of a cart load of hay pulled by a horse.   The hay was made into a haystack, thatched to keep out the worst of the weather, and then left for that all important Winter food.  Now, thank goodness, things are not left to chance in quite the same way.   I know haytime was a picturesque time of year, but it was always a worrying time for the farmer.

When I read articles in newspapers it does seem as though a lot of people muddle up 'hay' and 'silage'.   I am speaking now of here in the North of England.   What goes on in the South of the country, where the weather is often more settled and warmer, I don't know.   But here in the Yorkshire Dales nobody makes hay until well into July.   

If you happen to be lucky enough to own protected wild flower meadows then you are not allowed to cut until towards the end of July in any case - to give the flowers time to flower and then seed for next year.

However, there are two kinds of silage and I think that is where folk get muddled up.    In the first kind, forage silage, the grass is cut, left to wilt and then gathered up by those giant 'hoover' things and blown out into wagons.   It is then carried to the farmyard and tipped on to a silage clamp.    When it is full the top is sheeted down and often weighted with old tyres - and then left to 'fester'.
When Winter comes and the cattle come in the clamp is opened up and the 'cured' grass is then used for feed.   Some farmers allow feeding at clamp, which means that the cattle inside can help themselves whenever they like.   Others (more usual) mix it with other things and feed it into the troughs.

The second kind of silage is the one which people seem to muddle up with hay.   The grass is cut and left to dry in the fields.   Once or twice and farmer will go round and shake it up to disperse it and allow the sun (hopefully) to get among the grass.   When it is deemed dry enough then it will be baled (usually large round bales these days) and wrapped in plastic (either black or pale green) and led back to the farm to be stacked and used in Winter.   This sort of silage is more dependent upon the weather than the forage stuff as the period during which it lies in the field is longer.

But anyone up here at this time of year who sees grass lying in the field and assumes it is hay is wrong.  When it comes to haytiming, then we really need good hot sun to dry it off and leave it crisp.   That's the best kind of hay; that's the kind that smells of Summer even in the middle of Winter.   That's the kind I love best of all - and I am sure you do too.

Life on the farm can be frustrating if the weather is not settled enough to make either hay or silage.   But anyone who saw the marvellous film of Kate Humble in the the mountains of Afghanistan last night on BBC2 and saw the hard life lived by the shepherds and their families (life expectancy 35, many children dying in infancy, no access to medicine of any kind, diet mainly of water, milk products from their sheep, flat bread which they baked on a fire of yak dung, and maybe sheep once a month, when they threw every little bit into a great pot of boiling water and ate it with their fingers) must surely be thankful that by comparison the farmer's worries here in the Yorkshire Dales are nothing at all.

14 comments:

Crafty Green Poet said...

I think you'd love the film Cycles which I just reviewed, it focuses on a sheep washing contest in Turkey and follows the shepherding year.

I didn't see that programme with kate Humble, need to add that to the list of things to catch on i-player.

I didn't realise there were two types of silage, to be honest, though i knew silage was different to hay.

The Solitary Walker said...

That's one of my favourite Bible passages too.

Lots of interesting stuff in this post, Pat. Thanks.

Arija said...

In Austria they call the green baled silage ' farmer's mozzarella' and our cows love it above all else. It is also lightly alcoholic so maybe they should all join AA.
I remember riding back on top of the hay wain and then having that sweet smelling hay stored in the hayseed.

Pat don't believe what the nursery men tell you. We too have a lot of black spot but both for powdery mildew and black spot, a milk spray does wonders. One part milk or whey to 10 parts of water, sprayed at ten dy intervals, does wonders.

angryparsnip said...

We have seasons here in Tucson too. Where the weather dictates how we live our life and for me helping out the critters who live on and visit my home, without making them dependent.

cheers, parsnip

Barbara said...

I've always liked that passage from the Bible as well. The whole cycle of farming seasons is quite reassuring.
The film you referenced sounds amazing. I'll have to see if it is available here. Those sort of stories make me realize that my weather-related concerns and frustrations are really nothing.
Very interesting post!

Em Parkinson said...

Haylage has become incredibly popular thing with farmers down here, as horse owners will pay a premium for it over hay, which is still widely produced too. Last winter I was paying £4.50 a bale for hay while Haylage was £6.00! My farmer friends have given up making hay as it doesn't make financial sense. I'm sure haylage didn't exist as a thing when I was a child!

Heather said...

I love the smell of hay and can remember the grass in my grandmother's paddock being cut and left to dry in the sun before it was gathered up into a very homemade haystack. Her goats loved it and the chickens had some to line their nest boxes.

lil red hen said...

We are in hay season here in the States. In order to save the first cutting, we wrap our big round bales in plastic, as it is very hard to find days when it will dry completely. Then as the dry months come,we are able to let the grass dry before it's baled. As you said, the cows really like the silage hay.

I find your posts so very interesting!

Irene said...

Thanks for your explanation about the silage and the hay. I was ignorant of them and always felt sorry for the cows having to eat the silage. I see now that I need not be. I do come from a long line of farmers on my maternal grandmother's side, but all that knowledge is lost to me. I was raised in the city and only visited farms occasionally.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thanks for visiting. The price of haylage is interesting Em. Up here we tend to make haylage if it starts of as hay and then the weather turns 'soft' and leaves the hay not crisp enough - so it is turned into haylage. I must ask for a comparison of prices up here - as farmers always seem to talk of haylage as the poor relation. Maybe the price down your way relates to the large number of horses.

Em Parkinson said...

There are horses EVERYWHERE so I think you're probably right and there are commercial producers who wrap it up calling it something fancy beginning with 'Equ' which always trebles the price of everything!

Reader Wil said...

This is a Bible verse we often used with funerals. I think these words are very wise.
Thank you for explaining the difference between forage silage and the round bales, wrapped in plastic.
I learned again something new from you.There is so much of farming which I don't know.
I wish you a sunny summer!
Wil, ABCW Team

Michael Peverett said...

Yes that's really interesting for us non-farmers. I'm taking it that haylage = the second kind of silage that you describe in your post?

The Weaver of Grass said...

Michael - if we are really honest - up here haylage is what we make if the haycrop is lying in the sun and suddenly it begins to rain - bale it up quickly into haylage rather than let it spoil. Don't know whether this occurs in other areas of the country.