11 February 2000

WHOLE-CROP FORAGE SAVES

DAY ON UPLAND UNIT

Wheat grown for whole-crop

forage on a north west

dairy farm, where land

rises to 360m (1175ft), is

helping to produce a herd

average of over 9000 litres.

Jeremy Hunt reports

A LANCS upland dairy farm has overcome the problems of heavy land, a short growing season and over 1800mm (70in) of rainfall, and is successfully growing wheat for whole-crop forage.

The crop has been grown at David and Margaret Booths 80ha (200 acre) Broom House Farm, Earby, Colne, for the last seven years on land at 275m (900ft). This autumn has even seen wheat drilled at 350m (1150ft) on a field bordered by heather moorland.

The Booths Shawdale herd of 120 pedigree Holsteins is averaging 9079kg at 3.94% butterfat and 3.24% protein, achieving a margin over concentrate of £1264 and margin a litre of 14.1p. Pre-whole-crop, when the herd was being milked twice-a-day and concentrate feeding was under 2t a cow, average yield was 6500 litres.

"Because of the farms situation our silage was too wet, we were forced to use a lot of additive and on a self-feed system we were getting acidosis problems.

"We needed to look at ways of balancing the pH. With silage at pH3.6 and the cows rumen at pH6 we had to do something to improve the forage part of the diet," says Mr Booth, who has to cope with an eight-month winter.

When growing wheat for whole-crop forage was suggested, Mr Booths initial reaction was far from positive: "Sounds like a good idea but not up here."

Poor germination

But he eventually decided to drill 4.4ha (11 acres). Germination was poor on this first attempt but the Booths persisted.

The following year 5.6ha (14 acres) were drilled on Sept 10 on land at 275-320m (900-1050ft). The success of this crop heralded the start of a major change in the herds forage rationing.

"We are always the last to harvest – about Sept 2 this year – and we have the following years crop drilled within about two weeks."

Glyphosate (Roundup) is used when wheat follows grass, after which cultivations are undertaken by King Brothers of nearby Salterforth, Colne – keen enthusiasts of whole-crop forage. Land is power harrowed, drilled and fertilised – at 38kg N/ha (30 units/acre) – within 24 hours.

"I am not an arable farmer so our contractors undertake spraying. We have taken their advice on varieties and have used Riband for a while. We have tried Madrigal and have grown Equinox for the last two years.

"We want short, stiff-strawed varieties but we also use growth regulators; the Equinox crop grown this year was hardly knee-high," says Mr Booth who harvested 10ha (25 acres) last autumn and has drilled 13.7ha (34 acres) for this years crop.

Additive added

Harvested wheat is brought back to the farm and unloaded in the yard. Its spread out to a depth of about 0.6m (2ft) and treated manually with additive.

Whole-crop forage is then buck-raked onto the silage clamp to provide its top layer. The herd is on self-feed silage which means whole-crop forms the uppermost layer of the face at about 3.5m (11ft 6in) high.

"Whole-crop is forked down behind the feed barrier once a day. We judge the quantity by eye but I would estimate that in terms of dry matter the cows are getting almost 40% of their intake as whole-crop."

The cost of growing whole-crop last year was £34/t freshweight for a 70% dry matter crop.

From crop to clamp;

whole-crop is proving successful on even

high land, says David Booth.