2 June 1995

a brake on high work rate

High DMnot

Many contractors dislike the high dry matter silage concept; they believe the extra tedding and raking operations required, reduce gang work rates and potential income. However, there are exceptions. Andrew Faulkner visits a Leics contractor who specialises in the high dry matter technique

HIGH dry matter silage: Nutritionists preach it, cows used to sucking on soggy stodge beseech it, most farmers would like to reach it. And the National Rivers Authority thinks it a very good idea.

The high dry matter principle makes sense. Drier grass in the field means a quicker and better fermentation in the clamp. The end result should be a high sugar, low acid, palatable silage in front of the cows – and more milk in the tank.

It sounds simple but for the contractor charged with delivering this product, the logistics can be rather more complex. Traditional contractor thinking has been that grass conditioning operations – tedding and raking – slow his job and reduce the workrates needed to justify high capital cost/high output foragers.

However, this "high dry matter versus high output" dilemma is overrated, according to Leicestershire contractors Ray and Geoff Pierce. They reckon their two silaging gangs have maintained workrates since moving to a tedding/raking system four years ago; the firm specialises in producing a higher dry matter silage.

"All first cut grass is now tedded at least once, but that is the only extra high dry matter operation. We were already using big rakes to get the most out of the self-propelled forager," Ray Pierce explains.

"Although the extra labour and machines for grass conditioning require more organisation, each harvesting team is still regularly achieving 100 acres/day in the clamp."

The Pierces contracting operation is based at Tythorn Hill Farm, Wigston, near Leicester. In addition to harvesting about 1820ha (4500 acres) of grass and 890ha (2200 acres) of forage maize, the firm also runs three 12t rear discharge muckspreaders, four maize drills and a Hesston 4880 baler.

Before 1989, the Pierces had what many would consider to be a traditional silage contracting operation. A 2.7m (9ft) wide Taarup Autoswather grouped two rows into one to produce a heavy swath from a 5.5m (18ft) bout width. After a 24-hour "wilt", this was picked up by a Mengele SF300 self-propelled forager – a conventional "mow today, pick-up tomorrow" system.

"The big swaths boosted harvester output, but in heavy crops the bottom layer of grass had no chance of any drying; it was going off, before the harvester could get there. That prompted the move to a front/rear mowing combination for lighter swaths, and a big rake to group the rows in front of the harvester."

Ray Pierce concedes that this first move into grass conditioning – buying a Niemeyer rake – was aimed at maintaining harvester output, not boosting dry matter. However, switching to narrower swaths and raking did have the effect of increasing average dry matters from 20 to 25%.

Since adding a tedding operation in 1991, that average has risen to over 30%.

For 32ha (80 acres) of first-cut grass silage, a typical Pierce workplan now comprises: 5.5m (18ft) wide mowing combination starts cutting early on the first day; straight behind the mower, a six rotor, 8.15m (26ft 9in) wide tedder spreads out the crop; early afternoon on the following day, a twin-rotor rake rows up an 8.2m (26ft 11in) wide swath in front of a 350hp Claas 695 Mega self-propelled forager. All 32ha (80 acres) into the clamp within 24 hours.

Charge for the complete operation ranges from £99/ha to £111/ha (£40-45/acre) depending on whether the customer adds any of his own kit to the gang. An extra tedding pass adds a further £12/ha (£5/acre).

So what are the problems? First-time customers tend to have three main concerns: Will the contractor get there on time; are high dry matter systems more susceptible to poor weather; and how can drier silage, which is more difficult to consolidate, be properly clamped when it arrives in the yard at up to 32-40ha/day (80-100 acres/day)?

The first question is put to all contractors. The Pierces say that most of these first-time customers, who may have been running their own trailed forager, will probably have set aside a week for first-cut silage in the past. They counter these concerns by guaranteeing that they will be there on one day during a farmers preferred week. And one day is all they need on most farms.

To answer the other two common concerns, Ray Pierce explains: "This high dry matter system is probably less, not more susceptible to the weather. If theres been light rain overnight, an extra pass with the tedder the following morning will convert what would have been a poor silage into a better one." Should prolonged rain be forecast, Mr Pierce still has the option of dropping the tedding operation and getting the crop in as quickly as possible.

He admits clamping can be the systems bottleneck, so he recommends farmers add their own 4WD tractor to the clamping operation. This is used solely for rolling.

"The customer usually has a spare tractor, particularly if he was making his own silage before," Mr Pierce says.

"Having a tractor rolling full-time tends to get over any farmer concerns about poor consolidation. The proof is in the quality of the silage when the clamp is opened up; weve not had any problems yet."