Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Silage, The Silent Killer

If you’ve spent any time at all in a rural farming community you’ve probably heard the term “silage” ("sigh-ledge"). If not – you won’t know what it is; but now you’re wondering, aren’t you?

Do read on.

The first time I heard the word it was in reference to the large crop of irrigated sorghum standing just behind me on a dove shoot. A man said "just saw a big 'ol rattlesnake back there in that silage."

That bit of information piqued my interest and I felt it worthwhile to follow-up.

Whatt silage? Where?

Yonderways. (vague gesture towards 200 acre sorghum field, 10' high)

Didja kill it ?

Naw. Didn't have a sack to put 'im in.

Uncertain of how to respond, I simply nodded and filed the term away with a mental snapshot of a sorghum field and went on about my business. I know farming. Now, I know "silage" too. I am brilliant.

The next time I heard the term “silage” it was in reference to a corn field. If sorghum is silage and corn isn’t sorghum then corn can’t be silage, can it? I took the SAT. I know words.

Clearly, I am a sharper farmer than the farmer pointing to his corn and calling it silage when, obviously, that’s wrong. I chuckled to myself, pleased with my smart farming sense, and thought “I pity this farmer who does not know his silage from his corn. His cows must be very sickly.” But, I left it at that. Silage = sorghum field. End of story.

This weekend my friend JB stood with me in the bright sunlight surveying a dove field.  It was hot. I mean 101 degrees hot.  So hot, nobody was really talking - just standing; limply draped across the sides of my truck bed praying for rain and waiting on 3 o'clock.  Finally, JB reached into the cooler for a water and broke the silence: "Whoooeeee. It is some kinna’ hot and that pond sure looks nice. You know your Great-Granddaddy Burke Sr. used to fish right over there in that pond."

Uncle John leaned both elbows on the toolbox, fanned himself with his hat and mumbled “he was nearbout blind as long as I knew him. Couldn’t barely see to cast.”

"Yeah, that’s right John. His friend Mr. Blunt used to go down to Macon in his Cutlass to pick him up when he got to where he couldn’t see good, and he’d bring him down here to go fishing. Funny thing was – couldn’t neither of ‘em see good! It was the blind driving the blind!

Well, Mr. Blunt got to where he couldn’t see so bad that he couldn’t figure out where to turn off at to get to the pond. They drove around for awhile until Mr. Burke heard the silage truck go driving by. Now Mr. Burke may not coulda’ seen the driveway, but he sure knew the sound of that o' silage truck headed for the silage pit right by the lake, so he hollered at Mr. Blunt “follow that truck!” figuring it would get ‘em close to where they needed to be.

Now, at this point in the story all I can hear is the term “silage” rattling around in my brain like a pebble in a tin can. It has shaken my entire foundation in farming terminology. What in the blue daisy-scented hell is silage anyway? Where is the sorghum field? What kind of pit does it go in? What about corn? Does that fit in here? Could I climb around in that pit of silage and make little tunnels? Because I’ve always wanted to dig a series of interconnected tunnels and caves in something.  It would satisfy the same urge as making a blanket fort under the dining room table, but infinitely better.

Also: is it dangerous, this silage pit of glorious tunnels? Where can I learn to understand more of mysterious silage? I entirely lost the thread of the story, time slowed, I imagined myself creating an entire kingdom of underground silage tunnels and all I could hear was the thunderous word “SIIIILLAAGGEEEEE” echoing through my brain. I did not understand this silage word and, because I am far too curious, there can be nothing that I do not understand or I will likely die. I felt adrift. Lost. Shaken. Miserable.

I came back to myself in time to hear JB finish “So, they followed that silage truck right on down to the pit…and drove right off the hill into it!” Couldn’t neither of em’ see good enough to figure out what they had done! There they were, nose-first in a silage pit 20 feet deep in the hillside with fishing rods hanging out the both back windows and rear wheels spinning in the air. We had to send a crane down there to lift ‘em out. That about ended their solo fishing trips. After that your Granddaddy would just send somebody down from the shop to take ‘em both.

"Heh heh. JB, I reckon they’re lucky that pit didn’t explode."

WHAT? SILAGE IS EXPLOSIVE??!!? God help us. Is there nothing safe to tunnel in anymore? 
I blazed a quick trail that night to Wikipedia which said:

"Silage is fermented, high-moisture fodder that can be fed to ruminants (cud-chewing animals like cattle and sheep)[1] or used as a biofuel feedstock for anaerobic digesters. It is fermented and stored in a process called ensiling or silaging, and is usually made from grass crops, including corn (maize), sorghum or other cereals, using the entire green plant (not just the grain). Silage can be made from many field crops, and special terms may be used depending on type (oatlage for oats, haylage for alfalfa – but see below for the different British use of the term haylage).[2]Silage is made either by placing cut green vegetation in a silo, by piling it in a large heap covered with plastic sheet, or by wrapping large bales in plastic film."

DANGER FELLOW TUNNELERS!!

"Silos are hazardous, and deaths occur in the process of filling and maintaining them. There is a risk of injury by machinery or from falls. When a silo is filled, fine dust particles in the air can become explosive because of their large aggregate surface area. Also, fermentation presents respiratory hazards. The ensiling process produces "silo gas" during the early stages of the fermentation process. Silage gas contains nitric oxide (NO), which will react with oxygen (O2) in the air to form nitrogen dioxide (NO2), which is toxic.[5] Lack of oxygen inside the silo can cause asphyxiation. Molds that grow when air reaches cured silage can cause toxic organic dust syndrome. Silage bales are heavy, and can fall, roll or overbalance."

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I would like to add a warning about the dangers of silage. I live in an agrarian community and almost every year we have injuries and truthfully a few deaths due to processing silage.
The majority of accidents happen when workers go in a silo from the bottom opening to haul silage and it caves in on them from the top. This is quite true. The same will happen with a silage pit.
I am glad the potential dangers of silage are being aired in this national forum for the betterment of all mankind.

Kelly said...

just wanted to let you know that I wrote a post and included a short description of your blog on it...hope you don't mind
http://iheartbrowneyes.blogspot.com/2011/09/my-top-ten-favorite-blogs.html

Clisby said...

City boy. I swear.