For Francis Read the traditional way of covering a silage clamp with plastic sheeting and tyres was too great a chore to even contemplate.
Instead, he decided to cover the clamp with wheat grains to create a mat of plant growth to protect the maize silage below – it was a method he had heard was being used successfully in parts of eastern Europe.
Mr Read runs a 280ha (700-acre) beef farm at Carlton, south of Newmarket, Suffolk, and can, at any one time, have more than 3000 finishing cattle on the farm. Purchased as 15 month old stores, mainly from the West Country, the cattle are finished in yards on a diet of brewers’ grains, protein straights, rolled wheat, straw, maize silage and minerals.
“For the first time this year, we grew 70 acres of maize and employed a contractor to put it in a clamp we built from big square straw bales,” he explains. “I had resigned myself to taking the sheeting and tyre clamp covering route, but having heard about the turf mat system I thought I would give it a try.”
Deciding on the rate per sq m of grain which should be used was the difficult bit, he concedes and admits that the 10kg/sq m he put down this year may have been too much. “The aim is to create a good mat of growth with roots well intertwined,” he says.
But for this year, he considers the system to have worked well with only a small crust of spoilage being formed despite frequent heavy rainfall.
“So far, maize has kept well – its dry matter of 28% would suggest the turf mat is doing its job. And with protein levels of 8.5% it will make a useful contribution to our feed formulations,” he says.
“The beauty of the system is that we can go straight into the clamp with the bucket loader and put everything in the diet feeder – the covering mat of growing wheat included. And there isn’t a tyre to move or a sheet to roll back.”