Friday, 18 July 2014


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.



Frugal in Derbyshire said...

Useful tutorial Weaver, The farmer next door to us has just baled his silage. The problem for smallholders is getting smaller bales of hay. Those large bales work out cheaper, but when you only need a there little can be a lot of waste.
Good luck at the hospital

mrsnesbitt said...

Next time you come to Middlesbrough I'll pop down for a cuppa. Dxx

Heather said...

Hope the hospital appointment goes well. I think most of the local farmers down here produce silage but I'm sure a lot of hay is needed by horse owners and those with small-holdings.

Mary said...

Thanks for the clarification. Now perhaps a little note about what slurry is please. I know it's in tanks - my old school friend's Devonshire dairy farmer hubby fell into his years back, a close call!

Hope all goes well for the farmer today at the hospital. My guy had an MRI this week - back problems - awaiting his results, meanwhile I'm not asking him to rearrange the furniture etc. I'm in a state of flux regarding changing up the decor in the summertime anyway - just too hot to do much around the house!!!

Take care - Mary

JoAnn ( Scene Through My Eyes) said...

But my question still is - how can one tell the difference before the silage is baled into those big white bundles? If the grass/hay/silage is cut and on the ground how do we tell the difference between hay and silage. It all seems to look the same to me when cut and laying on the ground.

Maureen @ Josephina Ballerina said...

I has been educated via Pat and Wikipedia.
Hay is grass, legumes or other herbaceous plants that have been cut, dried, and stored for use as animal fodder, particularly for grazing livestock such as cattle, horses, goats, and sheep.

Silage is fermented, high-moisture stored fodder which can be fed to ruminants (cud-chewing animals such as cattle and sheep)...and is usually made from grass crops, including maize, sorghum or other cereals, using the entire green plant (not just the grain)

Hildred said...

I think the ranchers around here mainly make hay (while the sun shines) - when it rains they make silage....

Rachel said...

P watches his hay float off down the field rather than pay attention to the weather forecast (or me). He has done this a couple of times in the last 4 weeks. However, he tells me that it is all baled and carted into the barn now. All ready for the horse in the winter. The silage making is over now and harvest has begun here.

John Gray said...

Can you guess star on COUNTRYFULE

Julie Clay Illustration said...

Ooh thanks for that, and I like Maureens little addition too, as I didm't have a clue. although I had seen something on countryfile about it recently (sorry folks) mentioning how silage is usually wet? Anyway, I need to know what all the crops are next please, with pictures, although I may just check it out on google? The number of times I walk through a field and don't know if it's wheat, corn, barley, oats??? I think barley has the long strands (ears) and is corn the same as maize?? It's a mystery and I would like to know :)

Cro Magnon said...

And folk confuse hay and straw too. I was once asked if the English and Dutch spoke the same language; I replied 'yes', it was simpler like that.

Yorkshire Pudding said...

Thank you for clearing up the difference between hay and silage - surely more important than working out the difference between Shi-ite and Sunni Muslims.

Cro Magnon said...

As the Iraqi weather forecaster said 'In some areas it will be very Sunni, and in others completely Shi'ite. Boom boom.

susie @ persimmon moon cottage said...

I am like Jo Ann, in that I would not know hay from silage if I saw it baled (or unbaled)! I live in the USA in the Midwest, but in the suburbs. I can identify wheat, corn, soybeans, but other than for those I am one of the "Oh look at the hay in the fields" types.

I enjoy visiting your site because it is fun to see and read how beautiful it is where you live. It's interesting to read about the birds and creatures that live near you. I also like reading about baling hay and other work that you do there, even if I don't know hay from silage. I do know what "muck" from the cattle is, though!

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thanks for all your comments. I am experiencing a problem in that something has happened which is preventing me getting on to write a new post. The print comes up on the screen so large that there is little room to write anything. This is in the same script but is not so bad for the comments page. Any ideas anybody?

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