Thirty Years Farming on the Clifton Park System

How to supply Humus, Texture, and Fertility by the Aid of Deep-Rooting Grasses

by William Lamin

Chapter 7

Silage -- How to make the carting easy -- Making a silage stack -- Silos and pits? -- Fires -- Cutting a stack

What made us start making silage was, during a wet season when I had been farming about ten years or thereabouts, we had a thirty-acre field of barley, sown with small seed for a four years ley; and the season was so wet the clover grew faster than the barley and quite as high as the barley -- so there was nothing else for it, but to make it into silage. At first we started to lead it with wagons, but when you had got only about a quarter of a load on three horses could not pull it, so we had to lead it with carts and it all had to be loaded with forks. We got five or six young miners that were out of work to put it on the carts, but it took us six times as long to clear the field than it did fifteen or twenty years later when we started to make silage in earnest. We put all the thirty acres into one round stack and it made some very good silage. We did not make any more silage until after the war of 1914, not until the slump came and fodder came down to £2 per ton and barley 20s. per quarter. We gave up growing a lot of corn and potatoes and started a breeding flock and made a lot of the leys into silage to feed a lot of cattle; and for several years we did very well feeding cattle in winter on silage and turnips. We used to feed two hundred Polly [polled] bullocks and heifers. Besides a lot of strong stores outside on the leys we had all polled cattle for the yards, so that we could put them thicker in the yards without them knocking one another about; but we liked the horn cattle best for wintering out.

As well as making a lot of the leys into silage, we used to grow a lot of tares and winter oats on purpose to make into silage. One year we had a hundred and thirty acres of tares and oats on purpose to make into silage, but there were about twenty acres at the finish that we could not make into silage. The weather happened to come hot and dry and twenty acres had to be made into fodder, but that year we had over a thousand tons of silage.

One of the silage stacks on Mr. Lamin, Junior's, farm, made on the principles advocated in this book.

When starting to lead a field of tares, we usually had one man doing nothing else every day but mowing with the grass mower. He would not want much more to do to keep out of the way, as he would have a lot more stoppages than if he was mowing clover: he would mow about six or seven acres a day. When starting to mow a field of tares we would mow five or six rounds all round the field. If it was a large field, we mowed round half of it at once to get room for carts; and the man that was mowing would keep mowing in strips (six or seven acres in each strip) and then the carts would not have to go so far round when they were full. Sometimes we would cut about four swaths through across the middle of the strip, if it would save the carts having to go round to one end of the strip. We had some rails made to go on the front of the carts and go right over the horses' backs, also another set of rails to fit in the bottom of the carts and stick out behind the cart to balance the weight. We had some eyelets fitted in the bottom of the carts for a turned up hook to fit in to keep the rails in their place and prevent them slipping out behind; of course, the main two pieces sticking out over the horses' backs and at the back of the carts had to be very strong to carry the weight and had some lighter cross pieces bolted to them. The main pieces at the front of the carts had to be slightly curved to clear the horses' backs and fitted on each side of the carts -- close to the side boards, which we let stop in their proper place. We had an iron rod come from the bottom of the cart and an eyelet in the end of it for the hook at the end of the spran to fit in to keep it in its place. [A spran is an extra wooden fitment protruding over the horses' backs in the front and extending over the back of a wagon, so that a bigger load can be carried, especially of lighter crops such as straw and hay. In some districts sprans are referred to as wagon racks.] The main pieces at the back of the carts had to curve more than the front pieces, so that the tares, etc., would not be so likely to slip off at the back. We also had a strong bolt, with an eyelet at the end of it, put through the strong piece underneath, where the hind board rested on, to hang the hay loader on. We had seven carts fitted with rails; and each cart was numbered and each pair of rails numbered, so that there was no wondering whether you had got the right rails. When we started making silage in earnest we had two hay loaders and the oldest was not so high as the newest one; so we had the stays underneath the old one strengthened, so that it would not break down with the extra weight of the green tares [vetches], as a swath was very heavy in its green state. When first starting to load the tares round the field, when there was no clear course, you had to make a way for the hay loader, as if you let it get hold of some of the next row you would either bring it up or (if you did not break a link or stays, which would waste a lot of time) get the chain off the top rollers. When starting round for the first time we should let the swath that we intended loading remain where it was and have two men or youths just moving the rows on each side a little bit, so that there was just room for the hay loader to work without catching either of the rows on each side.

After going once round the field the next swath would have to be moved away from the next swath after -- far enough away so that the tines on the hay loader would not catch it. It used to take two men or strong youths to move the swaths, as one man could not keep out of the way all day. It was not necessary to turn the swath over as the less it was rucked up the better; the more even the swath lay about the width of the hay loader, the better it would deal with it. We used to have two handy men to load the carts and they would take it in turn to load. As one horse could not pull steady, we had to have a gear horse, so that the man loading would not be liable to be jerked off. It was surprising how quickly we could get a load on, as much as a horse could puff; we should regularly get a load on in about ten minutes. When starting to load we packed it on the rails at the back of the cart first, then gradually filled the body of the cart. When the body was full they would then pack it on the front rail and we could easily get as much on as a horse could pull, and hardly at any time should we have any drop off.

When you have decided on the place to make the stack you should stick a fork in the ground in the centre of where you are going to make the stack, and then let a man or youth hold it firm upright. Then get some binder twine eight or ten yards long, according to what size you think the stack would want to be; then tie the string round the fork shaft and then get a strong thatch peg and tie to the end of the string. And then I used to hold the thatch peg, pointing to the ground and a stacker would keep putting a forkful up to the thatch peg all the way round. Then they would fill in the inside of the ring with straw for a staddle. We would get the elevator set, but would not be forced to use it until we had the middle of the stack well full. We always kept the middle of the stack about two yards higher than the sides, and it would gradually slope down to the sides; it was a lot easier to chuck it down hill than if you kept it on the level. Besides, if you did not keep the middle piece the highest, when the stack had settled down it would be hollow in the middle, as there was always more weight in the middle than the sides. When we had got the elevator going, we always had two carts emptying at once, as one man could not throw it off quickly enough. We would draw one cart to the end of the elevator and the other to the side. They would not get both the carts empty at once; but one man would have his cart half empty when the other was done, so that the carts could get off separately and not both together. When the stacker had been about twice round the outside, I would take a fork and go all round the stack to see that there were no humps and hollows in the circle. It is very necessary that there should be no humps and hollows, as if you had a hump sticking out it would not get its proper weight, and the air would be more likely to get in the hump, when it had not got its proper weight from above. I always insisted, if the stack happened to get out a bit, it should be racked off, as it is very necessary for the walls of the stacks to be completely straight up. When we had had three days' leading on the first stack, we would start and make another. By the time we had three days' leading on the second stack, the first stack would have settled down to about half its height. Then we should have two or three days leading again on the first stack, and then back again on to the second stack for two or three days. After that it would depend on how much acreage we had left. We divided it between the two stacks, as we liked to have the size of the stacks as near alike as possible; but whatever acreage there was it had to go on the two stacks. When we were finishing the stacks we would make a round roof on it about three yards higher than the outsides, and would then let the stacks settle down again, and then top it up with either oat or barley straw. We would put a good roof on, not quite as steep as a haystack roof. When we had finished roofing it, we would put some old harrows on the top to keep the straw from blowing off, and the wet would not get in. To show what good silage we used to make, the Notts County Agricultural Organizer asked us to send a small truss for exhibition at Wollaton Park -- I think it was the Bath and West Show. They put it in the horticultural tent, but they had to put it outside, as the public did not understand the smell of the silage.

There has been a lot of controversy in the farming papers lately, all about showing farmers how to make silage in silos and pits; but when a farmer has got anywhere about fifty to a hundred tons it is folly to put it into a silo or pit. But I should not recommend a farmer making a small quantity to make it into a stack, as he would not get enough weight on it and would get too much waste round the sides. Usually we had very little waste round the stack sides and we should spread it in the fields for the store cattle and they would clear it up. When making very green tares, etc., into silage, you must let it wilt a bit or else it will not take enough heat and make sour silage instead of sweet. I once had an experience of that: we were leading a twenty-acre field of tares and there came a big lot of rain in the night and we had all the men and horses and nothing else to set them to do, so we went on leading the tares whilst they were very wet, but it made sour silage instead of sweet. It came out of the stack as green as when it was put in and did not take any heat at all. It is necessary that it should take a little heat, but we had to use our own judgment when to lead it. Sometimes if the weather was very dry it would want hardly any wilting. I should say now the different institutes have taken the matter up, to teach the farmers making small quantities. With the aid of molasses it does not want anything like the judgment to make silage that we had to use to make it.

When starting a stack of about fifty tons it is necessary to be very particular to start it the right size that you think will hold the quantity: about eight yards in diameter is about as small as you can expect the stack to keep straight up and settle down level without going to one side bodily. You must have the stack big enough in circumference so that it will settle down evenly all round. When making a small stack of about fifty tons don't let it get top heavy by putting it up too quickly. When you have got as high with the stack as you think desirable for it to settle down to about half its height, hold off for a day or two while it settles. Of course it all depends on what staff you have got; you can carry on quite well with a small staff, but you must have the implements for the job. If you have decided to make silage every year and have more than fifty tons, instead of buying a silo buy an elevator if you have not got one and buy an International Hayloader for loading it on to the carts or other vehicles. About a yard or more before you are thinking of roofing the stack you must have the grass or whatever it is a good deal greener than the rest of the stack until you have finished roofing it. This is the time when it is liable to get too hot and black, simply because it will not have enough weight on it with the straw you put on it to finish it off. We never offered to tread out silage stacks as a man would soon get tired of treading when you could not see where he had been and as the weight from above would make it as solid as a board. If you are not using molasses, when you get to the top of the stack if the stuff is not green enough you will have to use some molasses and water it well to prevent it getting too hot. Even if it did get on fire it could only burn down the straw that it was topped up with.

We have only had two silage stacks on fire; the first was a big stack at the Goosedale Farm but it did not burn the silage stack as it is impossible to burn a silage stack: it only burnt the straw that it was topped with but it burned some straw stacks that were close to it. It arose from our starting to use it by taking a cutting out of it which let the air in; if we could have kept off using it another month I don't think it would have fired as it would have cooled down. Now the reason that stack fired was because the silage at the top of the stack was too dry; if we had wetted it with some molasses it would never have happened, but the use of molasses had not started then. It was the top of the stack which got on fire. The second stack which we got on fire was at Bottom House Farm. We had a fifteen-acre and a twenty-eight-acre field of second or third year seed and we mowed half the twenty-eight field to get some seeds for the horses but we got the first half of the twenty-eight acres spoiled through the bad weather and we made up our minds to make silage of the rest. So we made the fifteen-acre and the half of the twenty-eight acre into one stack in the fifteen-acre field and topped it up with some of the spoilt seeds.

Then one morning in the middle of the winter we found this stack on fire; but I think someone must have set it on fire. It was blazing away all round the stack, and you would think it would soon burn the lot down. One of my brothers happened to be at the farm at the time and he said, 'What are you going to do with it?' I said, 'Let it burn itself out; it can't burn it down.' My brother said, 'It will gradually go through the whole stack.' So we let it be for a few days and I thought it had burnt itself out. Then one night a very strong wind blew up and started the stack blazing all round again. Then my brother said, 'There, I told you so; it will go through the whole lot,' and I said, 'Don't talk so soft -- it can't burn it down.' So we let it alone for a few weeks as we were using another silage stack and did not want it. When we had finished using the other stack we had to see about clearing all the stuff off the stack, as there were still smouldering bits on the roof that were not completely burnt out. We started to throw all the charred stuff off the roof. When we had got to the middle of the roof of spoilt hay that we had topped the stack up with, it was still on fire all of a red glow, but we threw it on to the ground and put the fire out when on the ground. About a foot or thereabouts underneath where the fire was all aglow the silage was as green as when it was stacked. It turned out a very good stack of silage, as I expected it would. The fire only burnt the dry stuff round the sides which the wind had dried and we pared it off with the cutting knife. I have been giving this description about the silage being liable to get too hot, if it happens to be very dry weather, but you can always remedy it by watering extra with the molasses. I have seen in a farming paper that Mr. Hosier says it is far easier to make second class silage in stacks than second class hay; but, if it is good material you are using, there is no reason for it to be second class silage. If it is moderate stuff, it will make better silage than hay. Get the advice of your silage officer until you are used to it. I cannot see any sense in having several silos when it can be made in stacks at as quick again a rate and a lot less expense. When a farmer has a lot of silage to make, the stack system is far away better than silos or pits; and when you get used to it you should make better silage in the stacks than in the silos or pits. A man treading silage out of sight cannot be expected to keep going all day; and you won't get it solid enough to keep the air out especially round the sides of the silos. I think when we were fetching cattle from Dublin we made more silage than any farmer in England, and I don't think that there was any better quality cattle went to market; if there were not many buyers round the ring there were soon plenty round when ours were going through. One particular Co-operative Society sty man would buy several each week. I may say we often made stacks with two hundred and fifty to three hundred tons in them. When starting to use a big silage stack don't get too far into it, but take one or two or three cuttings off one side until you have got about half-way across the stack. The stack being round the first cutting will have to be a short one. Don't start the cutting too small, as it takes so much cutting when it is as hard as a board and you can only cut with the point of the knife. Later you can start cutting off one end of the half that is left in order to keep the stack as compact as you can, so that as little surface of the stack is exposed to the air as possible. When starting to use a small stack you would most likely have to take a cutting all round the stack, and then bring it all down altogether as it would be all in one solid lump and might topple over.

Since writing this I have been reading in the Royal Journal 1942, an article by Frank H. Garner describing the different ways of making silage in silos and pits, but I consider unless you are making very small quantities, it is a slow, tedious, and expensive way. Get the advice of your Silage Officer, how much wilting it wants so that you ensure it takes a little heat. Sometimes, if it is dry weather, it will want hardly any wilting. If you study it there is no reason why you should not make better silage in stacks than in silos or pits without all the paraphernalia entailed with silos, and very little waste. Frank H. Garner describes silos with a capacity of three hundred tons. I should take a lot of making believe that if you put three hundred tons into a silo it would not burst it when settling down. Another point in favour of the stack silage is this -- when you are using it you can back your cart up to the cutting and get your load on in about a quarter the time you would be getting it out of a silo.

Next: Chapter 8

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