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To feed silage or not to feed silage? That is the question.

 
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Whether tis better to control the feed stock source but have to present it in a form they don't encounter in nature or buy in hay  that could have been sprayed or contain who knows what.

Basically I have had 3 katahdin ewes this last year and hope to get a ram to breed them this fall and then probably butcher the ram to get more diverse genetics going on the homestead. They currently are bei g rotated through about 3-3.5 acres of decent pasture and we're trying to move some large patchy forest areas towards silvopasture. About 2 of those acres is currently very long and I'd like to cut it and put it up for winter feed stock.

We don't currently have hay making/baling heavy equipment and don't have the desire to invest in it at this time nor do we have friends with that equipment. We do have a walk behind sickle mower and a Ford 8n with a brush hog. I would prefer to do hay but we live in Missouri near st Louis and it's hard to get 4 days without rain this time of year for cut hay to dry. Because of that I had been looking at how folks in south east Asia and central America sometimes use 55 gallon drums to ferment silage in and my understanding is the moisture content can be much higher for silage. I have also looked at manual square baler plans and wouldn't mind doing that but again the drying time is an issue. I had also though about doing an Amish style hay stack where you trod down the center to compact it then throw a tarp over it.

Our necessary food stock is very low, last year we got by with about 4 standard square bales so it's nowhere near cost prohibitive and we might have been able to get by with 1.5 except I had to use a bunch to lure them back into the fence a few times and that hay was not efficiently used. I had also read about some folks using silage as a portion of poultry feed and we have a decent flock of chickens and ducks so that was also desirable.

I have heard some folks say you shouldn't feed silage because it is never in an animals natural diet so the pH  could be an issue. However I know sauerkraut etc is very good for us so it's hard for me to understand why what is essentially sauerkraut from grass would be bad for ruminants, I understand our digestion is pretty different but the way fermented foods boost vitamin content seems like it would be a good thing.

Thanks for any help you can provide to a newbie who is still learning! Trying to keep our sheep as wildly as possible but I also want to be a good responsible care taker.
 
pollinator
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Location: Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada
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Silage was developed during WWII because there was a series of unusually wet summers in the UK where the grass didn't cure off. It was a survival measure and it does work as a stop gap.

Sometimes you have to do what you have to do until your permanent systems come on line.
 
pollinator
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Here's my take on the subject: silage is good stuff.

I spent long, long hours of my youthful summers making silage, in colossal volumes. We packed and sealed it in pit silos, and later in vertical silos, and fed it to cattle, who absolutely thrived on it. It was a completely effective way of pulling crops off of marginal land, preserving it, and providing highly nutritious feed to livestock. I imagine the local bees didn't mind the great fields of red clover we grew either.

It was also a way of turning a teenager into a kick-ass gear jammer, running the big truck with a 5-speed, dual axle, vacuum shift. Forget brakes: if you couldn't downshift, you couldn't stop, period. I still drive a stick today.

I have no knowledge as to whether silage is appropriate for sheep; I leave that discussion to those with direct expertise.

 
pioneer
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I worked on my cousins dairy farm a few summers as a kid. He milked about 80 head of holsteins and he depended heavily on silage. He installed an 80 foot tower to store enough to supplement his hay and grain over the winter. The cows loved it.
I wasn't involved in making it. He bought it from the Farmers COOP. We just augered it to the top of the tower and let it fall in. I hated climbing that bloody thing to put the cover over the inlet when it was full.
 
pollinator
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We make corn, sorghum and hay silage.  We make it in 5 gallon buckets. These are small and easy to handle on a little farm.  The issues that I have studied are there are 4 types of stomaches.  Herbivores have 4 stomaches cows, goats, sheep and deer. Herbivores all use fermentation in their stomach processing food.  They chew their cud to stop the fermentation by adding air so the food will digest better. I have been told that silage is bad for them, because it is already fermented.  I think some is ok in small amounts.  The high moister content seems to help with milk production for calving and lambing. There is no grass here in the winter so I supplement with a small amount of silage mixed with hay.  Chickens on the other hand have a gizzard with rocks in it and the silage seems to help them out.  Pigs have a stomach like ours and they will eat it, but I don't think they get much from it.  Rabbits have a 2 stomach system that uses partial fermintation for digestion.  Our rabbits will eat just a little, but prefer hay.

One thing I have noticed is the smell and consistency of poop changes as they eat more silage.  Cows get runny and smelly, pigs get fibery, chickens get more fibery and rabbits get runnier. I think silage is like all other feeds for animals, moderation is key to a healthy diet.
 
pollinator
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Location: Denmark 57N
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Silage is THE feed here for cows, it can be maize or grass but it's 90% of their feed all year round on most of the intensive farms where the animals never get outside, the other 10% is grain based pellets. The big players make it in huge clamps over 100m long and 30m+ wide out on the fields, smaller people with only 10 or so cows buy "haylage" which is just bailed half dried grass which then ferments inside it's bale. Horses here are also fed haylage, there are very few sheep around so I can't say what they eat.

If it wasn't a good feed it wouldn't be being fed to production animals. And I've not seen much natural "hay" either, I suspect if you were to look at wild winter grass it's probably half fermented/rotten anyway.
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