Too quick and too short – not a description of your average contractor, but some feel it sums up their approach to silage making.

The result is average forage, lacking scratch factor and a winter spent trying to balance diets accordingly.

Yet does it pay to make your own silage?

While there seem to be benefits in controlling cutting date and quality, are they outweighed by the costs of machinery depreciation, repairs and labour?

Having just run a silage-making workshop for dairy farmers, Lancashire-based consultant Graeme Surtees says there wasn’t much difference between contractor costs and doing-it-yourself.

“It was slightly cheaper making your own silage, although this was using cheque book costs.

However, all silage is expensive and you need to know the costs to make the right decisions,” he says.

“Can you justify a third cut costing £22-£23/t – which tends to be poorer quality – when compared with an alternative feed, such as brewers’ grains?”

Mr Surtees believes contractors can make better silage because they can clamp it quicker.

But farmers can do a better job because they understand how it needs to feed during winter.

“It’s down to the individual to make either system work.

When you make poor silage, you’re going to have a poor year.

“Speed is the big bonus – when silage is picked up too slowly it starts fermenting.

Short chop length, however, is an issue.

It means more grass in the trailer, which is what the machines are designed to do, but I spend all winter on farm correcting butterfat issues.”

One problem he still finds, regardless of method, is not sheeting-up the clamp overnight.

It’s often the last job anyone wants to do, yet it helps prevent air being sucked into silage.

“Otherwise it leads to seams of waste as silage acts like an oxygen pump drawing air in.

Putting a sheet over, even with just a few tyres on top, can make a massive difference.”

As units get larger, more can justify investing in silage machinery.

Even then, Mr Surtees suggests producers consider contractors, as they free up time.

“Instead of spending 2-3 weeks a year harvesting, you can be managing cows better.

But it’s all about managing your contractors,” he adds.

fwlivestock@rbi.co.uk