Most of the machinery used on the farm is for harvesting crops to feed the animals throughout the winter. Harvsting these crops is a continual process which happens through the summer and into the Autumn. A lot of the equipment used is often too expensive to buy so a contractor is employed to do the work for us.
The first cut of silage takes place from May 20th onwards when the grass has grown enough to be harvested.
The grass is mowed a day before it is picked up with the forager. This helps the grass to dry out or wilt. If the grass is too wet it will not store well in the silage pit. Good weather is essential as the quality of the crop is improved hugely by sunshine which makes the grass produce sugars. These provide energy for the cow and help her to produce more milk.
Grass cut or harvested in wet weather is usually of poor quality. Invariably the grass harvested off wet ground can have soil in it from the tractor tyres and will not make good silage. Cows have a very keen sense of smell and taste and turn their noses up at at food they do not like.
The tractor and machine in the photo below has put two rows of grass into one. This will help speed up the job of the forage harvester as it will only have to travel half the distance to pick the crop up.
Forage harvesting. Essentially picking the grass off the ground from the row, chopping it up and blasting it into the silage trailer.
The forage harvester stays in the field filling trailers full of grass which are carted back to the farm where they are tipped and emptied.
The grass is dumped in the silage pit where iit is pushed and compressed into a an oblong block. This takes considerable driver skill to make an even pit with fresh grass and to squeeze the air out. If the grass is not compressed properly and air is left in the pit the grass will go off and be inedible. Remember cows are fussy eaters and they dont like second best. They will not produce milk if they are fed poor quality food.
A second tractor is often used on the silage pit (or clamp, as it is also called) to roll the grass down, which gives the other tractor more time to move the grass as it arrives from the field.
When all the crop is in the pit, it is sealed using two plastic sheets to keep the pit airtight. Heavy covers are used to stop the wind from blowing the sheets off and they also stop crows from pecking holes in the plastic. With the absense of air the grass will ferment into silage which will be fed to the cows in the winter.
After the first cut of grass is taken late in may, it takes 6 weeks for another crop to go and the same for a third cut. We aim to take three cuts every summer but it is all weather dependent. If rain delays the start of first cut it will do the same for the next two so there are no fixed dates for harvesting just targets. It is better to be flexible and be prepared to harvest at a moments notice as the british weather is notoriously unpredictable.
Hay and Haylage
These crops are grown to feed the younger cattle. Hay and haylage are also made from older or more mature grass than silage, typically at 10 to 12 weeks growth. It is a dryer feed and would not povide the right nutrients for a cow to produce milk from, but it is ideal for heifers. Unlike silage, hay crops need to be left for days to dry out, so it can be made into bales, requiring longer spells of good weather. Unsurprisingly hay has become less popular in modern farming as silage is easier, cheaper and quicker.
Haylage is effectively hay wrapped in plastic when the weather doeas not allow the grass to dry out fully. This gives the farmer another option when the weather becomes unsettled. To make hay the crop needs to be very dry. If it is not, the bales will go mouldy and heat up, decompose and turn into muck. Wet hay bales can heat up to such a degree that they can go on fire. The easiest way to to stop the problems with damp hay is to wrap the bales in plastic, preventing the grass from decomposing and helping it ferment into Haylage (a cross between hay and Silage)
Below: Haylage being made in June The crop is being rowed up ready to be baled.
The grass has been spread out on the ground to allow it to dry out. The crop has been mown for more than a week but the weather has been wet, so it was decided to bale the crop and wrap the bales.
The contractor packs haylage into enormous bales weighing around 300kgs each.
The wrapper follows closely behind the baler, sealing the haylage from the air and preserving it.
Bales left in the field can be pecked by birds, breaking the plastic and exposing the haylage to the air. So once they are wrapped the bales will be loaded onto traillers and taken back to the farm where they are unloaded into a stack.
Not all hay bales are square. Here are some round bales made in good weather which did not have to be wrapped.