A bulldozer works high on the ensilage mound at Vermont Natural Ag Products along Lower Foote Street, on the Foster Brothers Farm, in Middlebury.
Take a look at Vermont Natural Ag Products Inc., makers of Moo Doo and other award-winning farm and garden products at the Foster Brother’s Farm on Lower Foote Street in Middlebury, and you’ll see a modern farm using some of the latest, efficient farming methods—such as ensilage.
According to retired family member and former ice cream maker David Foster, “the operation’s products are formulated from cow, horse, and poultry compost from farms located all around the area and are available from retailers and wholesalers throughout the northeast.”
Foster said the farm began in 1941 and incorporated in 1971. In addition to its traditional dairy focus, the farm has expanded by supplying Moo Doo gardening manure and potting soil, mulches, peat, growing mixes, and landscaping stone.
“The whole operation covers over 1,500 acres. The dairy herd is about 630 cows—over 370 of which are milked,” Foster added. “The herd produces over 8 million pounds of milk each year.”
Visible along Lower Foot Street is the farm’s ensilage operation.
The farm’s ensilage area is not your grandfather’s vertical, structural silo—instead, think of Fosters’ ensilage area as a layered, horizontal mound rising about two stories in the air.
According to Foster, the “layered mound silo” preserves plant food for livestock in a green, moist condition ensuring the best nutrients remain intact. The layering of the ensilage mound also requires airtight conditions.
“In the end, the farmer ends up with fodder for his animals,” he said.
Foster said the crop material must be spread in uniform layers, with plastic in between, and then packed. Only a few feet are added to it in a week. The entire mass then begins to naturally heat up throughout. This process ensures the decomposition of plant carbohydrates into various acids, hence the name sour silage. Loosely packed mounds increase oxidation and the result is sweet silage.
While many farms may still sport vertical silos made of concrete or other materials, closer inspection may reveal that these older silos are empty. Instead, farmers are moving to ensilage mound systems due to their increase efficiency, lower cost, and safer work environment.