small-scale silage....comfrey?

Discussion in 'Homesteading Questions' started by RANDEL, Feb 3, 2004.

  1. RANDEL

    RANDEL Well-Known Member

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    anyone have experience with making silage on a small scale? when i say small scale, i'm thinking of all the leftovers from a very large homestead kitchen garden, plus maybe some mowings from a half-acre or acre of hay (grass or legume, i don't know yet.) we would be talking beet tops, maybe forage beet roots, pea pods, overgrown lettuce, and really just any spent plant that might be ensiled while still in a green state. plus the little bit of real hay from mowing and raking the small field.

    the purpose of the silage would be to overwinter a small herd of possibly sheep or goats, or maybe at some point a single milch cow.

    i already know the material has to be kept fairly airtight to ferment properly, and was planning on using a big hole in the ground for this.

    also, what about using comfrey greens in silage? any thoughts?
     
  2. DAVID In Wisconsin

    DAVID In Wisconsin Well-Known Member

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    Parts of comfrey can be poisonous.
     

  3. rambler

    rambler Well-Known Member Supporter

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    I'm used to big silage operations, so I'm not much help. However:

    The object of silage is to get 40-65% moisture plant material with enough starch into storage as quickly as possible, pack it tightly, and seal it off from any oxygen at all. Too little water & the good bugs don't grow well; too much water & they drown - this is important to remember on the edges of your silo as well.

    The better you are at doing that, the better the silage will be. The less spoilage there will be. There is _always_ some spoilage (mold), but you want as little as possible. Any oxygen at all will cause mold, you need to eliminate as much O2 as possible. The O2 bugs cause mold, the bugs that live without O2 cause pickling juice. Unfortunately the O2 bugs are easier to grow....

    'A hole in the ground' would be like a bunker silo. They have the highest spoilage, as the top is exposed, it's harder to pack the silage because the pile is shallow. Most are concrete walls, with just dirt you will have a lot of liquid loss, and oxygen entering, so the sides would spoil. The top would spoil - Bunker silos they drive big 4wd tractors over many times to pack tight (air gaps in the silage hold O2, and cause spoilage) and cover with plastic, but still the top foot or 3 will not be good silage - it dries out & gets exposed to O2.....

    Then, legumes & grass do not have much starch, so the good bugs you want to grow don't have much feed to produce their pickling juice. Certainly lots of silage is made from alfalfa, but it's more difficult to do. Often some innoculant helps on these crops.

    Another problem I see is that you will be making a 'harvest' about every week or 2, and trying to add to the pile? This is not the best way to produce silage. The whole 'silo' should be filled & left alone for 3 weeks. Contantly adding to it will introduce O2, disurb the good bugs, and create multiple lines of poor 'top' silage in your bunker.

    Now, as I say, what you want to try might work well, I don't really know. But you really will need to learn & practice to understand how a silo works.... Good luck with it.

    An important safety warning: A well funtioning silo will produce gases that are heavier than air, and displace all oxygen. As well as probably producing some gases that make your lungs want to foam (farmer's lung). If your 'hole in the ground' is actually a deeper pit, be very careful of this, especially in those first 3 weeks. Many, many farmers have needed hospital visits or coroner visits from entering a silo too soon and running out of oxygen. I'll guess it's not too serious on such a small scale, but I wouldn't feel right in not mentioning this. If you do get the good bugs to work properly, they try real hard to keep oxygen away from themselves, and this has real negative affects on humans. :)

    --->Paul
     
  4. Jena

    Jena Well-Known Member

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    I agree with what rambler said.

    Silage is an "all at once" type of thing. You can't open it up to add more, as you will end up with yuck.

    I read a paper once from some third world country. They experimented with making small bags of silage in plastic shopping bags. They squeezed the air out, double bagged them and it worked ok. Their biggest problem was mice getting into them. It was really a funny paper, but informative too.

    I think you can do small scale silage, but you need to watch the moisture content of what you put in. I would stick to the hay and make haylage. You can bag it, cover it with a tarp and seal it, whatever it takes to get and keep the air out.

    Silo gas is a danger and also, improperly fermented silage can kill your animals. Never feed moldy stuff.

    Jena
     
  5. For a opperation of your size feeding hay from your ground would be more practical. The garden greens you have as waste can be fed to your stock while they are fresh. Any pasture doing this might save will increase the time your animals can feed from the pasture field. This in turn will have the end result of requiring less hay in winter. Finding someone to bring in the equipment nessesary to chop the hay for silage would be close to impossible. A small amount of hay could be put up with a minimum of equipment, which you would very likely have to own yourself.
     
  6. big rockpile

    big rockpile If I need a Shelter

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    Randel you would be better off drying this stuff like regular Hay,then put it in the Dry out of the Sun.

    big rockpile
     
  7. Ken Scharabok

    Ken Scharabok In Remembrance

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    You might consider making small-scale haylage instead - or silage from sweet corn stalks.

    With haylage, try to stick with just grasses. A simple method is to cut what you can process in a day. Let the grasses dry down to where they are still flexible, but not where moisture comes out when you twist a small bundle of it. Use a garbage can with holes drilled in the bottom. Place two heavy-duty plastic garbage bags in the can, then put in about half a can's worth and pack down as solidly as possible by standing/pressing on it. Add more and pack. Add more and pack until you reach the top. You want to extrude as much air as possible. With the person still standing on top maneuver the top of the first bag under their feet, twist and tie off. If possible tie the neck short, double it over and tie again. Now do the second bag the same way. (After the person gets off the can) turn it over and the bag of haylage should drop out. Here the air holes in the bottom of the can prevent a vacumm. Best stored under shelter.

    Silage from sweet corn stalks can be made the same way if you can chop them up first. Only real practical way to do so would be with something like a yard chipper. You can add a sprinkle of rock salt between layers. Seems like there was an article in Countryside maybe two years ago on this.

    When I was in Croatia I noted they made the equivalent of haylage from standing corn which had been left to turn brown. It was stored in open bunkers without cover. Seems good all the way to the top and there was very little moisture coming out of the bottom (which was concrete).

    With heavy-duty trash bags you should be able to reuse them a couple of times if they have no punctures in them. Don't worry about watery effuence in the bags. Some old timers would dip it out of silos and let their cattle drink it. However, I do note these bags are about like carrying a sloggy pumpkin.

    I once read of a couple who put up square baled hay at a high moisture content then double wrapped the bales in plastic bags until they used them. They reported their milk cows did very well on them during winter but it was too labor intensive to do on other than a small scale.

    And, yes, someone is going to point out plastic bags might give off gasses or chemicals. I really doubt that would cause a problem.

    When you start to feed out the silage/haylage do so a bit at a time to allow the livestock to become accustomed to it.

    I know of no part of the comfery plant which is poisonous. You can overdo it though. About like anything else. I don't think the reports about liver damage were every substantiated. Far as I know comfrey is the only plant to naturally produce Vitamin B-12. The leaves can be added to either haylage or silage. Two good comfrey books, both by Lawrence D Hills: Comfrey Report: The story of the world's fastest protein builder and Herbal Healer and Comfrey: Fodder, Food & Remedy.

    Ken S. in WC TN
     
  8. RANDEL

    RANDEL Well-Known Member

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    wow. thanks for the helpful responses, folks.

    the reason i was asking about the comfrey is, i have a pretty nice chunk of land (about one-quarter acre) that i'd like to utilize but it's in the utility easment, which means i need a crop that rare machine traffic won't destroy. also there's a phone line under there so i can't be forever digging. so i need a perennial crop of some kind. i thought about berries but its a quarter acre and i just don't need so many berries.

    comfrey has about as much protein as alfalfa, and produces about as much or maybe more. it also lasts longer, about 20 years. and it's more palatable to animals wilted because of the fuzziness, but it's hard to dry for hay. also i need a hay crop that i can reasonably harvest and handle by hand, or with a weedwhacker, lawn mower etc.

    i did some research and it IS used to make silage. i know about the liver-toxin stuff, but it seems to me that in animals used for slaughter, that's not too critical unless it builds up in their tissues. but i know it's been used as fodder for centuries with no apparent statistical problem. i think on the scale i'm thinking i could dig some holes, say 4 ft across and about as deep, line em in plastic, and possibly fill em from a cutting from my little comfrey patch. i'm only interested in taking, say 3-4 ewes and a ram thru the winter.

    anyway, that's the context of my question. thank u all again for ur thoughtful posts.
     
  9. Ken Scharabok

    Ken Scharabok In Remembrance

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    If you're going with just comfrey haylage, you might consider the plastic barrels with screw-on lids you see at places like Farmers' Co-op. I think they are former pickle or olive barrels. Let the leaves wilt down and then pack them into the barrels, making sure you get a good air seal on the lid.

    Ken S. in WC TN
     
  10. RANDEL

    RANDEL Well-Known Member

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    ken,
    that sounds eminently do-able. there's even a source for em relatively near my place. would i use salt with that? or molasses? or any other additives? maybe i'm not too clear on the distinction between haylage and silage. thanks!
     
  11. Ken Scharabok

    Ken Scharabok In Remembrance

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    Silage is a crop chopped and put into a silo/bunker directly - with no drying (wet silage). Haylage is when the crop has been allowed to wilt down to a desired moisture level before being stored as dry silage.

    Hills says comfrey does need molasses added, but isn't precise on the amount or application method. Send me a snail-mail addresss at scharabo@aol.com and I'll send you the pages on comfrey as silage or hay from his book.

    Ken Scharabok
     
  12. minnikin1

    minnikin1 Shepherd

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    If you were to make the bagged haylage Ken S described, how long does it take to ferment?
    Can you feed it right away?
     
  13. Freeholder

    Freeholder Well-Known Member

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    I'd like to get a good-sized patch of comfrey going for my animals, but haven't wanted to start it from seed (takes too long). Do you have a good source for roots?

    Kathleen
     
  14. Fla Gal

    Fla Gal Bunny Poo Monger Supporter

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    Contact Rick whom is a member of these forums. He might have some roots left. If not, I'm sure he can point you in the right direction.
     
  15. Freeholder

    Freeholder Well-Known Member

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    Is Rick his screen name?

    Kathleen