Thursday, May 29, 2014

Green choppin'

Double M is putting up it's first cutting of hay as green chop, which means the fields are chopped (kind of like you'd mow a lawn) and the forage is hauled to a pit where it's unloaded and packed.

A lot of ranches around here chop their first cutting of hay because of moisture problems and rain.  Hay loses nutritional value if it's rained on, and since it's still early ranches chop the first cutting so they don't have to worry about it going into the pit wet.....actually, it has to go into the pit wet to ensile correctly.

While we haven't had any rain, the moisture levels have been good for green chop. Hay grows back, and we normally get 4 cuttings each year, so the resulting cuttings will be put up for hay.


Big trucks drive through a field of hay, as choppers cut the standing hay into small pieces and blow it into the truck bellies that drive along side.  Once the truck is full, it heads to the pit to unload.

Once the trucks drop off a load at the pit (there'll be a steady stream of trucks coming from the fields all day long), whoever is running the tractor begins to push the green chop up the mound, and the weight of the tractor packs it down.



It's important to "push" as much air out of the green chop, because ensiling is an anaerobic process, and oxygen that remains trapped just spoils the silage.  

Once all of the green chop is in the pit, and packed, it will be covered with a tarp and the crew will lay tires on top of the tarp to "seal" the silage. Then the fermentation process will begin; this is when all of the oxygen is depleted in the green chop that's locked below the tarp and the pH is lowered by lactic acid that is created by the lactobacillus bacteria that are present on the forage when it is chopped.  Once the pH is lowered, the forage can remain in a feedable, fermented state for multiple years as long as it isn't exposed to oxygen.

That's why when someone feeds silage, they only peel back the tarp a little bit each day, and uncover the amount that they can feed quickly.

Think about it like beer production; to make beer, they ferment barley & hops, and then seal it away from oxygen in a bottle.  Once the bottle is opened, you have to drink the beer within a short amount of time or it goes bad.  But if left unopened, the beer lasts for a long time in a fermented state.  The process of making and sustaining silage is similar in concept.



It's a lot of "back and forth" on the tractor all day long, but time is of the essence because the longer the top of the pit is exposed to air, the more spoilage occurs.

And so goes another day at the ranch! :)

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