23 January 2012

—1881—
Ensilage

#84

A Lovely Old Silo


We have all heard, for the last year or two, a great deal about ensilage, or the packing of green fodder crops in silos, for preservation and use for the winter feeding of cattle. The word, therefore, has become familiar; but doubtless there are many who do not fully comprehend its meaning and its significance. A silo is a close pit, usually built in masonry, with brick or concrete walls, and calculated to exclude air. The most convenient form is thought to be rectangular, the width about one-third of the length, and the depth about two-fifths of the length. It is to be filled from the top, and hence will save labor if sunk wholly or mostly beneath the surface. The material to be used in filling is any green forage crop, rye, millet, sorghum, or green fodder-corn, taken in the blossom, and cut by a fodder-cutter into little pieces less than half an inch in length. This fine material is packed down as tightly as possible, the top covered with plank, and heavily weighted, to drive out and keep out the external air. In this way it is preserved in very much its original freshness and condition for months, to be fed out to stock as it is wanted from day to day. The fodder kept in this way is called ensilage.

Ensilage cutter & blower
 

This method of storing and preserving green feeding substances for stock has been known in France for many years, though nowhere generally adopted. It has been tried, to a limited extent, in this country, and with apparently great satisfaction and economy.

Every farmer knows that the amount of fodder-corn that can be grown on an acre of well-cultivated land is something enormous. Forty or fifty tons, as it comes from the field, is by no means unusual, and a far greater weight than that can easily be grown under favorable conditions, the plants being allowed to grow till they “tassel out,” or blossom, when the ears are just beginning to form. Taking it, therefore, for granted, that the amount of nutritive properties in forage plants is at its height at this stage of growth, the amount of nutritive feed in an acre of corn is something amazing; but the practical difficulty heretofore has been to cure and preserve it without a positive and large loss incident to drying and housing so bulky a product. The silo seems to solve the problem. It avoids the necessity of drying entirely, and keeps the material in very much its original condition. The ensilage, as it comes out of the silo, has undergone but a slight fermentation, but if allowed to lie on the barn-floor, or loose in a bin for a few hours, heating and fermentation set in, and a strong and very marked alcoholic smell is generate. Stock of all kinds are exceedingly fond of it, and will leave the best of hay to seize it with avidity. The process to which it has been subjected has rendered it more digestible, probably; and if so, the animal system will more completely utilize the actual nutrition which the plant contains when it its best condition. 

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We all know that dry hay, and dry fodder of any kind, will pass the animal only partially digested, very much of it appearing in the form of woody fibre in the excrements. If we feed oats, or any unground grain, to horses, we know very well that considerable portions of such food pass undigested, and very much of the actual nutriment which it contains will be lost. It has done far less good, no doubt, than if it had been finely ground, or more completely masticated. It has served some good purpose in distending the stomach, and so keeping up the healthy condition of the animal economy, and preventing a sensation of hunger, but its real elements of nutrition are by no means all assimilated so as to become incorporated, as it were, in a form to build up the animal system. It is apparent that there is some loss, more or less considerable, in proportion to the completeness of the process of assimilation. The reason why cattle appear to thrive better on an abundant supply of green grass, succulent forage of any kind, is, probably, that it is more easily, and so more completely digested. It is the natural form of food of most of our domesticated animals; and all forms of dried forage for winter feeding are artificial, and designed to form the best substitute we can get for the natural summer food of stock.
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Corn stalks being fed into the ensilage cutter & blown up into the top of the silo.

Now, if we can preserve the forage in its natural and succulent condition, without loss of its succulency, as the silo appears to do, it certainly seems to be a great gain. More extended, complete, and satisfactory experiments are needed to prove conclusively that this system will  effect this result, and it may prove to be good economy to supplement the feeding of ensilage by the addition of oil-meal to make a complete feeding substance; but so far as we can see now, the system bids fair to lead to the most important practical results.

[Thomas’s Farmer's Almanac]

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The 1881 almanac explains what ensilage is to the readers of 1888. Here is part of what Wikipedia says of it 131 years later...
Using the same technique as the process for making sauerkraut, green fodder was preserved for animals in parts of Germany since the start of the 19th century. This gained the attention of a French agriculturist, Auguste Goffart of Sologne, near Orléans, who published a book in 1877 which described the experiences of preserving green crops in silos. Goffart's experience attracted considerable attention. The conditions of dairy farming in the United States suited the ensiling of green maize fodder, and was soon adopted by New England farmers.
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Ensilage creates a nutritious food for livestock. It can be substituted for root crops; it is easily digestible; milk produced by animals eating silage maintains its quality and taste; it can be provided irrespective of the weather; it provides grass all year round; and a larger number of livestock can be supported on a given area by the use of ensilage than is possible by the use of green crops.
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I have made sauerkraut, and I have been involved in the making of ensilage, and the same technique is not used for both. But it is similar in that a natural fermentation takes place.
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If you have never read my silo story, Click Here.

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Alas, but I have violated an unwritten rule of the Agrarian Nation blog with today's post. Can anyone tell what it is?

14 comments:

Jason said...

hmmm....you linked back to The Deliberate Agrarian website?

Brenda@MyBackyardFarmyard said...

I'm stumped as to what rule you have violated, but could it be that you have referenced a modern resource like Wikipedia?

I had never heard of rectangular silos. I think that would be an easier model to build nowadays, but I like the look of the rounded ones.

It was a surprise for me to learn that dried fodder is not as digestible as fresh. This was a very informative post for beginners like myself.

Jet Set said...

Could the broken rule be that this form of forage preservation involves mechanization to an increasing degree?

This is very interesting because after reading all the previous posts I was really wondering when silage began to be used. What was really surprising to me was that the recommendation was to harvest the corn long before the ears ever developed!

It's so commonplace it's hard for me to imagine dairying without it. I know this isn't very agrarian of me to say, but I'm glad we have machines to do all the handling. Although, based on how this reads it sounds like even doing it all my hand was far more efficient than previous methods.

Brenda@MyBackyardFarmyard, the rectangular silos are quite common nowadays. They're called bunk silos. However, they aren't submerged below ground, and usually both ends are open to allow equipment access to remove the feed. Also, instead of planks they are covered with a great big sheet of plastic. I know that must sound horrible and honestly I think it is, but it's very effective, both in preservation and cost.

They are, however, far more efficient in terms of cubic feet of feed stored per square foot of plastic than one of the other options available which are bags. Bags are a looooong tube of plastic that is folded in such a way that it comes as a folded (like an accordion) ring. A machine called a bagger then packs the feed in letting the plastic out as it goes.

I guess the point is that until something better comes along, or the industrial system falls all apart it's what we've got. In the meantime if there's any reading this that don't have the time to weed an entire garden go out and find a farm using these storage's and see if you can have some (I bet they'll say yes, it's not like we enjoy having to deal with all this plastic.) It works really well for covering in between the rows and it's real thick so it's very durable and will probably last many a season. Just pin it down WELL!!! else the wind will have its way with it.

Brenda@MyBackyardFarmyard said...

Jet Set, thank you for the information on these "bunk" silos. So much to learn...

Ron C said...

The "violation" appears to be quoting Wikipedia. I'm thinking the original intent was to let the early farm almanacs speak for themselves. That's OK, you just demonstrated that Wikipedia is an unreliable source for information. Now for some excitement, try to change the information on Wikipedia.

Herrick Kimball said...

JetSet is the closest in guessing the unwritten rule that I violated in today's excerpt. It happens to be the picture at the top showing a tractor. I decided that I would never show a picture of a tractor at Agrarian Nation. Now that the rule is written, I'll stick to it.

Ron C—
Yes, I suppose going to Wikipedia is also something of a violation.

And you are absolutely correct about Wikipedia being unreliable. I discovered this a few years ago when I went to "Granola Bar" at Wikipedia and read that some guy named Stanley Mason invented granola bars. I knew that wasn't true because I invented granola bars. So I changed the listing to say that. And then Wikipedia removed my correction! I tell the story HERE

Thanks everyone for your comments.

Herrick Kimball said...

P.S. I would assume those pictures are from the 1920's or 1930's. Can anyone identify the tractor? Now there's a challenge!

David Veale said...

Agree that silage is more of an industrial era feed, as it really does require the use of tractors for cutting up.

It's also one of the feeds which can trigger acidosis in ruminants, which is responsible for the acid resistant O157 strain of E. Coli. Avoid acidifying foods like grain or silage/balage, and you all but eliminate the presence of this bacteria.

Silage is also believed to be a potential source of pathogens in milk -- and as such has been banned in Switzerland where they want to maintain the high reputation of their exported cheeses.

Herrick Kimball said...

David,

That is some great insight. I think I have heard it before but forgot. And did I hear also that dairy farms feed baking soda to the cows to neutralize the acid in their stomachs?

So what we have here is an example of how agriculture in the later 1800s was significantly industrialized. I don't think it was necessarily the case on all farms but the industrial model was held up and praised by all the agricultural publications of the day. That is clear when you read the span of Almanac entries through the 1800s.

And I do mention this in my Cultural & Historical Perspective to the Agrarian Nation

(required reading for all regular readers of Agrarian Nation)

Jet Set said...

David,
I would contest that it's not silage that triggers acidosis, but the feeding of an improperly balanced diet. In order to avoid writing another novel I will leave it at that ;-P. I am curious, though, about silage being a potential source of pathogens in milk. Do you have any recommended reading? I'm always ready to learn something new.

Herrick,
Yes, baking soda can be added to the feed, but it has been shown that a cow produces FAR more sodium bicarb through good rumination (cud chewing). Again, it comes down to feeding a well balanced diet in the first place.

Jet Set said...

Herrick,
I was able to show my Grandpa the picture of the tractor this morning. He thinks it's probably a Rumley, or possibly an early McCormic Deering, but it sure looks an awful lot like a Rumley to him. Also, I any of the almanacs talk about sucker fishing he did some reminiscing about that when I visited with him and Grandma last week.

Herrick Kimball said...

JetSet—
I'm delighted to know that Agrarian Nation could serve to get your grandfather reminiscing! That's neat. I don't recall seeing any information on sucker fishing, but I'll post it here if I do. I've never heard of a Rumley tractor. Did you click on the picture to see the enlarged view?

Jet Set said...

Herrick,
Yes, and then I copy-pasted it into mspaint and it was even bigger. I adjusted the page margins and it printed a full sheet of paper. I then took it to the barn to show him. I showed him how to read and post, but he's a do-er (80 somethin' years and could probably still outwork today's average town boy) so I doubt if he does, that and not really being computer literate.

Jet Set said...

ooops... I mean 70 something. 75 to be exact. I'm such a horrible grandson, I don't know my grandparents age!