Portnellan cows are fed on home grown grass and silage – a form of ‘preserved’ grass to make a natural and nutritious feed for the cows through the winter months.
To make silage we normally cut the grass twice during the summer months (usually once in June/July and then again in August) when the grass supply is plentiful, however in recent years the weather has only allowed one cut. The grass is ‘rowed up’ by the mower and once it’s had a short time to wilt in the sun, the forager drives along the rows, lifting the grass and chopping it up before blowing it into the trailer following behind. Working on our steep slopes makes it difficult and the drivers must be skilled and experienced to avoid accidents. The trailers deliver the chopped grass to the silage pit where it is tipped off and then piled up by a rough terrain forklift with a big grab on the front.
This is a very skilled job requiring concentration to ensure the grass is tightly packed into the pit and there are no hollows, which could cause the machine to tip. Once the pit is full and the air has been rolled out it is covered with black polythene to create an airtight seal. Naturally produced organic acids, chiefly lactic acid, then convert the sugar in the grass, effectively preserving it. This process takes about two or three weeks but usually the silo won’t be opened for several months.
Of course, the weather plays a huge role in when silage can be made but when the grass is ready and the conditions are right it’s a big job to get the grass in before it rains. Everyone works incredibly hard during silage making, sometimes right through the night!