Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Hay Bale Silage

I'm not well-educated as to the terms or the methods related to grass-based livestock management. I have a lot of questions.

A few years ago, when I was attempting to purchase a 10 acre parcel in Missouri (it fell through, but that's ok), I was trying to find out more about native grasses and rotational managed grazing. At that point, since it was in an area that got really cold for months out of the year, I was thinking along the lines of raising Highland cattle.

That journey is probably much of what's sparked in me a desire to do what I'm doing now, only the nice thing about it is that God introduced me to my husband, who also has had the same thoughts along those lines for most of his lifetime. And the funny thing is that it wasnt until later in our courtship that we even discovered that fact...the other "crucial" factors had to be in place, and it was an unexpected joy to find out that we'd been on the same path in other important areas, such as this one, too. (I love that!!)

I digress. Anyway, back when I was researching native prairie grasses and trying to address the challenges of that particular piece of land in question (water source, droughts, very cold winters, coyotes, previously used for hay, etc) I wandered down many happy donkey trails. One was investigating the plants and grasses native to the area, because I had the idea of a diverse pasture with grasses and forbs and herbs and wildflowers, but one palatable and beneficial for livestock without it being a monoculture grass patch.

I became very interested in the properties of wild chickory, both in what it does for hardpan fields (mines with a taproot, breaking up the ground and adding nutrients) and as a nutritional element in a healthy and diverse natural pastureland. I was also trying to find out what herbs might be naturalized within such a mix, for more selective grazers to have available to boost natural healing and dietary deficiencies.

It was fun trying to find out more about those things. It particulary riveted my friends whenever I got all excited about the subject (ha, this said a bit tongue in cheek!) ;-)

Anyway, during all of that was the question of 1. How to keep things as simple as possible and 2. How to feed naturally with the least expense possible, yet most beneficial to the animals. I'm not sure how realistic my rationale was on that subject, but my idea with the Highland cattle is that they are suited for a fairly rugged winter and pasture dwelling as long as there is an available dry basic shelter. But I was unsure what they would eat during the winter, unless I gave them grain.

I was trying to answer that question when I happened on a website that dealt with chickory. I think it was an Australian website, and they'd done great things with supplementing patches of chickory in swathes in pastures...the cattle seemed to show a real benefit. Then I saw the mention of baled hay silage. From what I remember, care has to be taken in the process, but some hays can be harvested in bales at a certain moisture content (that's the tricky part) and tightly wrapped in plastic 4 to 6 layers thick so that oxygen is prevented from entering, and the result is an ensiling effect (is that the right term?) that turns what would have formerly just been a nutritionally marginal bale of hay (winter feeding, remember?) into a rich silage that could be fed instead. Basically, it looks like the bales keep for a season, if not damaged, and can be split apart and fed in the field as needed through the winter.

I got excited about that idea, but it was about that point that it became evident I wasn't going to be moving to Missouri, so all those ideas got stored away in the wee recesses of my mind for later use.

I'm in a much hotter climate now. But in enjoying the reading about grass-based farming, I again ran again the mention of hay bale silage. Again, it looks like it has to be done right, or it could be more harm that help. But done right, it looks very promising.

And I wonder if anyone out there in homestead land is currently using it either for cattle or sheep or goats.

Very curious! If anyone knows someone who uses this method for winter feed, I'd be really interested in knowing more about their thoughts and advice, the pros and cons.

Here's a small article on the subject. Havent yet found my original article from the good ol Down Under :)

Thanks in advance for any leads anyone might have on this topic!

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