Both silage and hay are popular ways for farmers to feed their livestock when they’re unable to graze during the winter. Hay is made up of dried grass, while silage is fermented grass. Though both are high in nutrients, there are some key differences between the two. In this post, we’ll break down the difference between hay and silage so you can make the best decision for your farm.
What is Hay?
Hay is grass, legumes, or other herbaceous plants that have been cut and dried to be stored for use as animal fodder, either for large grazing animals raised as livestock, such as cattle, horses, goats, and sheep, or for smaller domesticated animals such as rabbits and guinea pigs.
Hay can be used as animal fodder when or where there is not enough pasture or rangeland on which to graze an animal, when grazing is not feasible due to weather (such as during the winter), or when lush pasture by itself would be too rich for the health of the animal. It is also fed when an animal is unable to access pasture—for example, when the animal is being kept in a stable or barn.
What is Silage?
Silage also referred to as ensilage is a fermented feed resulting from the storage of high moisture crops under anaerobic conditions in a structure called as silo. In brief, Silage is a high moisture fodder that farmers use to feed their domestic animals, especially during the dry season. Made up of grass, corn, maize, legumes, herbaceous plants and others, silages are made by chopping the crops into small pieces and then storing them.
The common methods used to store silages are silos, pits, trenches, bunkers, silage bags and silage bales. Silos and bunkers are used when there are large quantities present, whilst bags and bales are used when there are only small quantities to be stored and can be transported to the nearby market/farms in a short time.
The silage is then fermented to provide feed for livestock. The fermentation process of silage is done in multiple phases and takes around 3 weeks to be completed. The process of fermentation is done to improve dry matter intake and create a more digestible feed.
The fermentation process of silage produces lactic acid, which prevents the growth of harmful bacteria. The end result is a high-quality feed that is packed with nutrients that help to improve animal health and performance. The use of silage in animal husbandry is a way to extend the feed supply and to improve its quality.
Hay vs Silage
|Hay is grass, legumes, or other herbaceous plants that have been cut and dried to be stored for use as animal fodder.||Silage is forage plants such as corn (maize), legumes, and grasses that have been chopped and stored in tower silos, pits, or trenches for use as animal feed.|
|Hay is made up of dried plants.||Silage is made of fresh plants.|
|Hay is mowed, dried and stored in bales.||Silage is compacted and stored in pits or air-tight conditions without being dried.|
|Animals do not digest hay.||Silage is partially and easily digested by animals.|
|Hay usually has a moisture content of between 10-12%.||Silage has moisture content of between 40-60%.|
|Hay is generally easier to store and transport than silage.||Silage is generally has a longer life shell.|
|Hay is also often used as a general animal feed.||Silage is mostly used for dairy cows and is particularly a great choice for beef cattle and other livestock.|
|No enzyme or chemical is added during preparation of hay.||A bacterial enzyme is added after chopping the plant material.|
|Hay has a lower nutrient density than silage.||Silage also has a higher nutrient density than hay.|
|Hay is better for animals that are grazing.||Silage is better for animals that are being fed a concentrated diet.|
Key Point: Hay vs Silage
There are a few key points on the difference betwen hay and silage that you should be aware of.
- First, hay is made up of dried plants, while silage is made of fresh plants.
- Hay is also often used as animal feed, while silage is mostly used for dairy cows.
- Hay is generally easier to store and transport than silage.
- Hay is made by drying the grass and flowers in a field until they’re brittle enough to break into small pieces. The dried material is then gathered into bales and stored until it’s ready to be used.
- Silage is made by chopping the grass and other plants and then adding a bacterial enzyme that helps to preserve it. The mixture is then packed into silos or trailers and left to ferment.
- Silage is also high in nutrients and minerals, which makes it a great choice for beef cattle and other livestock.
- The fermentation process of silage can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, depending on the type of grass and the climate conditions. Once the silage has been fermented, it’s sealed in airtight plastic bags or drums to prevent it from spoiling.
- In general, hay is better for animals that are grazing, while silage is better for animals that are being fed a concentrated diet.
Hay is easier to store and transport, while silage has a longer shelf life. Silage also has a higher nutrient density than hay, meaning that cows can eat less of it and still get the nutrients they need.