Making silage

The phone rang one morning a little over a week ago. It was Richard’s brother, Fred, wondering if we had time to spend a few days helping put up silage. This was a phone call that would never have come a few years ago but since I started helping out on our friend, Louis’, farm during seeding and harvest, Richard’s brothers no longer see me as a city girl or a school teacher.  Now, I’m a potential worker! We made the four hour trip to the family farm near Barrhead after church last Sunday and started work on Monday.

Silage is a combination of grasses, in this case oats and barley, that are cut and preserved as feed for cattle or other livestock. The grasses are swathed, or cut, just before they are fully mature when their nutrient levels are highest. The cut grass is then chopped into fine pieces and compacted in a large pit where it is allowed to ferment. Once the pit is full, it is covered with heavy plastic sheeting which is weighted down with old tires. The process requires at least four workers; one on the swather, one on the cutter, one hauling truckloads of cut grass from the field to the pit and finally, one in the pit on a tractor spreading the grass and driving back and forth over it until the pile is firm.

IMG_4906Richard and Fred took turns operating the swather and driving truck while our nephew, Shane, drove the cutter. Packing the pit was my job and not one I particularly enjoyed! It was more difficult than I thought it would be, mainly because the gears on the old Versatile 875 tractor were very hard to shift. Because I spent all day going back & forth, back & forth, I had to change gears constantly. It felt like I was tearing my right arm and shoulder apart! In addition, I had to learn how to use a blade to push the silage around & smooth it out. That was frustrating at times but by the time we finished, I was getting the hang of it! It also didn’t help that, for the first two days, I was battling nausea much of the time. I never did figure out whether that was caused by the stress of trying to do a difficult task well, the back and forth motion of the tractor or a stomach bug of some sort. Fortunately, it settled down by the third day. I also quickly realized that one of the things I’ve loved most about farming is being out in the open fields under the big Alberta sky. I missed that this time. My favourite part of each day was supper time when my sister-in-law, Ronali, picked me up at the pit and we drove out into the field to join the guys and eat together.

the silage pit, almost full

the silage pit, almost full

We were slowed down a couple of times by minor breakdowns and trips to town for parts but the job was done by supper time on Friday and we covered the pit as the sun went down. In spite of the fact that I was never really sure if I was doing the job well enough, Fred was very happy to have the help and I must have done alright as he’s already talking about us coming back next year! I’m not so sure, but we’ll see. In the meantime, we’re back at home and as soon as the crops are ripe enough, I’ll be out on Louis’ combine helping with harvest again. I can hardly wait!

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