What do pasture fed cows eat during the winter?

What do pasture-fed cows eat during the winter?

Well it differs from farm to farm and also depends on what sort of summer season we've had. But the simple answer is hay, haylage and silage. Lots of people ask me, what's the difference?

Hay is simply grass which has been dried in the sun to preserve it, then baled. It is cut when the grass is long and ideally when there is a dry weather window of at least 5 days. Hay bales come in different sizes and are held together with baler twine.

Bales, like these in the photos, weighing approx. 250kg each, make up the bulk of what our herd eats all winter. We get though about 1 - 2 bales per day for the whole herd of 50 cattle. We move these bales mostly with a small tractor and then break them up by hand with pitch forks. Old school :)


Haylage is essentially hay, which has not completely dried out and gets baled in plastic wrap to preserve it. Sometime when we are planning to make hay, but the weather window just wasn't long enough and rain came a few days earlier than originally forecast, we make haylage instead. Rain on the cut grass would spoil it, so we hurriedly make it into round wrapped bales as the next best option. Before plastic was invented, this wasn't an option!

Silage also comes in wrapped bales, as well as being commonly stored in large silage clamps, which are concrete pits covered in sheeted plastic and weighed down with old tyres. These anaerobic storage environments allow sugars in the grass to kick start microbial activity and start fermenting. So silage is essentially pickled grass!

Here at Meadowsweet we feed a combination of hay, haylage and silage, with a preference for hay, because it doesn't use plastic wrap. But as with most things in farming, it all depends on the summer weather and what's possible with the amount of sunshine available.
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