What a new farmer needs to know about silage

What does a new farmer needs to know about silage?

Here I talk with Joe Dickenson from Dickenson Farms in Oilsprings, On about how he uses silage on his farm and what new farmers need to know.

Silage is something I don’t know much about, so I thought I would talk to someone who works with it on a regular basis.

Here are the questions that I ask him. 

  1. What is Silage?
  2. How do you make silage?
  3. What are the different types of silage?  What can we grow in ontario?
  4. What type of silage do you use? Why?
  5. How can you store silage? What are the advantage and disadvantages of different storage types?
  6. What types of animals need silage?
  7. How do you use silage on your farm?
  8. Is there anything I didn’t ask you about silage that new farmers would need to know?

Key highlights

  • Silage is a full crop that is chopped up green and stored in a oxygen limiting environment. It’s more moist and fermented.
  • Balage usually baled dryer than haylage and stored in bales. For baleage you are putting it into bales.
  • Haylage is wetter than balage.
  • First cut hay is usually a larger volume, so it is harder to get it all dry to put it into bales.  So if you’re pinched for time, you have a couple options after you cut your hay.
    • Bale the hay wet.
    • Make haylage out of your first cut.
  • Dry hay transports easier than wet hay.
  • Wrapped bales can last upwards of two years. However, once you open the wrapped bale it’s ideal to have it eaten by the animals in three days or less.
  • You use a forage harvester to chop up corn or sorghum into fine pieces. These fine pieces are put into a trailer and then put into a silo (either a vertical silo or a bunker type silo).
  • Haylage is a form of silage.
  • Haylage is chopped up legume e.g. alfalpha
  • Alfalpha is a good choice to have in your hay mix.
  • Haylage is usually a combination of alfapha, treefoil and fescu grass.
  • Some varieties of hay need to come off the field within 5 days.
  • Sorghum can be used as a nurse crop. That means that you would plant it at the same time as your hay seed. The sorghum grows faster than the hayseed so then you can cut the sorghum thus allowing the hay to grow.
  • You can store silage either in a vertical or horizontal silo as long as it is in an oxygen limiting environment.
  • You need to make sure you feed the appropriate amount of feed to your animals.
  • You use a blower to put your silage into the silo.
  • Beef cows and dairy cows don’t necessarily need silage.  However, by using silage you can increase your production of milk in dairy cows. Silage helps beef cows develop stronger.
  • Silage can speed up the feeding process.
  • Not all silage is created equal. Think of silage as wine, so each growing season is different.
  • It’s a good idea to diversify your feed options with your livestock.

Haylage vs Baleage vs Silage

Haylage is wetter than baleage. So the moisture level in haylage is higher than baleage.

Baleage is baled dryer than haylage.

You normally put baleage into wrapped hay bales.

Haylage tends to be chopped up and put into a silo.

Let me put it into moisture perspective.

  • Baleage runs about 30% moisture
  • Haylage runs about 50% moisture.
  • Corn Silage runs about 60% moisture

Protein values:

  • Haylage runs about 20% protein.
  • Silage runs about 8.5% protein.

Pictures from Joe’s farm

Final thoughts

Is there anything that I missed that you might be interested in?

Leave me a comment below.

Starting a hay farm? Viability of a hay farm

What do you think about starting a hay farm?

Crazy right?

Last time I was at the in-law’s farm I learned about hay. This time we got a chance to sit and chat about the viability of a hay farm.

The idea

The basic idea is to have a small farm that only does hay. You would only have a few select pieces of equipment and not a whole bunch.

This would be instead of doing cash crops, at least at the start.

This would be somewhere to start for a new farmer because the initial capital you need is lower than what you need for a cash crop farm.


There are a couple of things that are assumed here, so I am going to outline them here to give you an idea.

  • You are in an area where there are farmers that need extra hay. Think about horse farmers, or large cow operations.
  • You are able to produce high quality hay.
  • You are able to get a decent price for hay.
  • You have a farm to grow hay.

Financial investment

starting a hay farm

Look at all those bales of hay.

As I mentioned, the amount of initial capital isn’t as much to start a hay farm.

Here is the breakdown

  • Baler: $7,500
  • Tractors: $15,000
  • Mower: $10,000
  • Bale wagon : $5,000

In total that would come to $52,500.

Now you’re probably thinking, “what about a seeder and a cultivator?”

One of the really nice things about hay is that you don’t have to plant it every year. This means that you can get away with not having either of those pieces of equipment. You can contract out seeding.

I actually went out and looked for each piece of equipment to make sure that I could find them at the price that I indicated.

Ideally, you would want two used tractors if one breaks down. In that situation you can use the other. Also, it would allow you to pick up bales as they are dropped.


You would also need to buy the seeds.

We gauged it to be about $5,000 worth of seed for 50 acres.


The idea would be to sell the hay at around $4.50 per small square bale of hay. For good hay, this in’t unreasonable. Horse farmers are looking for good hay, and they’re willing to pay for it.

Here was the thought, on 50 acres you would get 100 square bales per acre, which is a conservative number.

If we do the math, that works out to be.

100 bales x 50 acres = 5000 bales of hay for 50 acres of land.

At a price of $4.50 that would be:

5000 bales x $4.50 = $22,500

That isn’t a huge amount of money, but remember that is a conservative number on the number of bales you would get per acre. Therefore, there is a definite possibility you could make more based on yield. Also, there is the possibility you could make less.

The fluctuation in prices and yield are just part of the game.

Deliver vs pick up at barn

Your price will have to vary depending on whether you sell from the barn or deliver. Each will have their own price because you will incur more costs if you deliver.

Take those points into consideration.

If you deliver, a good way to factor costs is by a per kilometre cost. Using that type of system you can price accordingly.


One thing to think about is where you are going to store the hay.

Here you have a couple of options.

  • Store it on the farm you own or rent.
  • Deliver hay as soon as it comes off the field.

Obviously, it would be best if you could deliver the hay as soon as you took it off the field. That would allow you to get paid right away, and you wouldn’t have to worry about storing the hay at all.

On the other hand, if you store the hay on your farm there is a cost involved. That means that you would have to charge more for the hay. Something like $4.75 a small square could work. The added $0.25 would be for storing the hay. You could charge more depending on your cost of storage.


With all that hay you’re going to need buyers.

There are a few options available to you.

  • You could use places like Kijiji to sell your hay.
  • You can check your local hay listings.
  • You can sell hay on your website.
  • You can connect with people on social media through Twitter and Facebook.
  • You can get to know people in your area and sell your hay through word of mouth.

Finding buyers is going to be your one of your primary goals, otherwise, all your hay would be for naught.

If I were to do this, I would probably go through my father in-law, assuming I were in the area.

However If I were not in the area, I would use a website and social media as well as word of mouth to help people find out about my product.

Additionally, I would learn who the local horse farmers were and talk to them directly and determine their needs.

Final thoughts

This is speculation but there are farms out there that do this. I asked on Twitter to see what people said

That gives you an idea from a farmer what the market is like.

What do you think about a hay farm? Leave a comment below.