18 February 2000

Home-growing earns national title

Making the best use of

maize was the focus of the

new Milk and Meat from

Maize Silage competition.

Jessica Buss joined the judges

to pick a national winner

PRODUCING 9800 litres a cow with heavy reliance on home-grown feeds convinced judges that the Metcalfe family are worthy winners of this years Milk and Meat from Maize Silage competition.

Maize provides half the forage for the 340 cows, but with the North Yorks units main farm being 255m (850ft) above sea level the maize acreage is restricted.

Maize is grown on 45ha (110 acres) of lower land at 165m (550ft), much of which is rented for that purpose, explained David Metcalfe, Washburn Farm, Leyburn.

Despite advice given 12 years ago by MGA judge Gordon Newman that the area was not suited to maize and that he should grow whole-crop, maize has been grown for 10 years, said Mr Metcalfe.

"We would like to feed cows 80% maize diets. We grow as much as we can at present and feed a higher proportion to the highest yielders."

He estimated that last years maize yields averaged about 15t/ha (6t DM/acre). "But we have to grow an early variety that we can harvest in good time."

Judges were impressed with the clamp and could find no shoulder waste or heating. Mr Metcalfe said no additive was used on silage, but Topcoat had been used at half the recommended rate on the top and shoulders, costing the same as salt.

He also believes in sealing the clamp using heavy gauge plastic sheets. "New 1000 gauge sheets are used on the pit sides every year. A single thick sheet, which is white on one side to reflect the sun, is used on top."

Cheap earth walled clamps make it easy to justify spending money on these more expensive sheets. Earth walls also make it easy to roll silage to the edges, he added.

Chop length and clamp consolidation were excellent. But perhaps that is to be expected with the familys large contracting business run from the 630ha (1560-acre) dairy, arable and sheep farm.

Managing this business may have also focused the Metcalfes on running the unit with little labour – currently 150 cows a man. Key to this is the fast-exit 32:32 herringbone parlour in which one man can milk 300 cows in just two hours.

Not feeding cows in the parlour helps speed milking. Cows rely totally on a mixed ration which is fed to two cow groups and a heifer group. "We move cows between groups according to condition score rather than yield, and with such high yields now some cows never move down from the high yielding group.

"Cows calve all year round to spread management and supply milk on a level supply contract," added Mr Metcalfe.

"In summer the grazing season is short and there is a small area of grass for grazing, so maize is fed with concentrate throughout the summer."

But Mr Metcalfe has resisted the temptation to rely more on purchased feeds and complicate feeding. He mixes a single premix to feed all cow groups. Concentrate use is 3.3t a cow, but home-grown wheat contributes half of that, helping keep concentrate price low at £112/t fed.

Increasing output a cow using home-grown wheat has been Mr Metcalfes solution to the lower milk price, as wheat is worth less to sell than it was in previous years.

"But now we will stick to the yield being produced. We want to produce a profitable yield and to increase it more would cost too much."

Overhead costs are also kept low on a p/litre basis, with machinery and labour spread over a lot of litres, he added. He also hopes to spread costs further by increasing cow numbers to 380 and keeping dry cows on a rented farm.

WINNING MAIZE

&#8226 No clamp waste.

&#8226 Home-grown wheat fed.

&#8226 Overhead costs well spread.

Well chopped and consolidated silage in a pit with thick sheets meant judges could find no waste on David Metcalfes maize clamp.