Introduction to Leaf Silage - part 3
Author : Louise Jakobsen
Once you have your containers ready for packing, you need to consider what material you will pack and where to source it from.
A large range of species are suitable for packing silage including hazel (Corylus spp.), beech (Fagus spp.), ash (Fraxinus spp.), willow (Salix spp.), Norway maple (Acer platanoides), birch (Betulus spp.), sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa) and many more.
Other plants have also been trialled including nettles and thistles. These may require a little more effort and attempts to get right as the material tend to become quite wet. But it has been done!
Depending on the size of your container, you may need to plan the sourcing of the material in advance.
If you require large amounts, it is worth checking with your horticultural department/council/local tree surgeons if they are due to carry out any tree maintenance as this would be a useful source. A lot of the time, tree work is done during winter, but you may be in luck.
One UK zoo has changed their tree work maintenance scheme to be done when the trees are in leaf in order to better utilise the material which would otherwise be wasted.
Your collection may also receive regular browse deliveries or donations for your animals so you could allocate some of that to be packed for silage.
If you require only a modest amount to fill your container, you can harvest as and when required.
The number one rule to remember is that it is highly recommended to make sure the container is filled the same day! Leaving a half full container for a few days to keep adding to it will cause the bottom part of the material to deteriorate and decompose. If the container is stored in a cool place and properly sealed, you may get away finishing it the following day. For the best and safest result; have enough material to fully pack your container the same day!
One last preparation is a clean working area and checking the weather forecast.
To start with the easiest: simply don’t pack silage if it is raining or the material is wet! The water will not evaporate in the container and the material will most likely be ruined. Wait for a dry day (see video).
Pick your working space with care - free of mud, excrement (not an unusual thing to find these days) and other contaminants. Listeria and clostridia are some of the bacteria to be very mindful of.
Tarmac, concrete or paved surfaces are the easiest to keep clean.
If using barrels, it’s a good idea to give them a wash with a disinfectant (e.g. Safe4) before using them for the first time and then wash them thoroughly and dry out after each use before stowing away.
Be organised when packing; have your pile of branches to one side, take a branch at the time and pick the leaves. Then dispose of the branch to the other side. This will help speed up the process and also minimise the risk of people walking all over the browse material with their contaminated work boots (something we see happen a lot unfortunately).