12 May 1995

Hosts always striving to lift the quality of silage

Quality silage making is not just the aim of the demonstrators at the Welsh Grassland Event – it is also that of the site owners.

Robert Davies spoke to farm manager John Owen to see how he sets about making his silage

IT would be hard to find a better venue than Gelli Aur College for Welsh Silage 95.

It has the area of land and several clamps needed for demonstrations and is also trying to improve silage quality.

The Towy Valley event site is on one of two units farmed by Carmarthen College of Technology and Art, and is home for the 220-cow Golden Grove herd of pedigree Holstein-Friesians, 150 followers, 150 breeding ewes and 20 suckler cows.

May first cut

First-cut silage is usually taken from 68ha (170 acres) between May 10 and May 15. In the past, a leased forager and farm labour were used but, as on many Dyfed farms, the system was due to change this year. In future a contractor will be employed to row, pick up, and carry the crop to the clamps.

"We aim to wilt for up to 48 hours and then get the crop in store and sealed as fast as possible," says farm manager John Owen. "The contractor we will use has a high capacity self-propelled harvester capable of handling a lot of grass very quickly."

Retiring staff

The system change was prompted by the retirement of two farm staff, and the desire to reduce the number of tractors on the unit. But farm staff will still mow. The College also plans to buy a new conditioning machine, so Mr Owen will be taking a keen interest in field demonstrations at the event. A new telescopic loader will also be used at the pit.

"The priority is to make 10-12t of first-cut silage for each cow. This means stocking is very tight when fields are shut off, so we keep late lactation cows inside until after first cut.

"We use the additive Ultrasil and the average silage has 25% dry matter, a D value of 70, an ME of 11 and 10-12% protein.

"At present we are getting 3500 litres of milk/cow off grass and silage. The aim is to increase this to at least 4000 litres over the next year.

"This is an ideal grass growing area and improving forage quality is crucial if we are to lift herd performance and margins."

The rolling herd average at the end of March was 5600 litres at 3.89% butterfat and 3.2% protein. This gave a margin over purchased feeds of £980/cow, or 17p/litre. Grass silage is mixed with maize silage in a complete feed and the cows are fed 21% protein cake on a flat rate system.

Second-cut silage is taken from almost the same area of land at the end of June, and small grass surpluses are made into big bales throughout the season. These are fed to the suckler cows and beef cattle.

Mr Owen will decide whether to switch to a chopper baler after talking to exhibitors and farmers at the event. Some hay is still made from traditional hay meadows for the sheep.

Effluent no problem

Wilting means that effluent is not a problem on the college farm, but slurry is.

With no clean water separation system, last winters rain created a serious overflow risk, which was only avoided by employing a contractor with umbilical spreading equipment on three occasions.

During the summer an extra slurry storage tank will be erected as part of a £70,000 scheme, which also includes a soiled water collection system linked to a rain gun irrigator.

"We aim to wilt grass for 48 hours before clamping," says Gelli Aur College farm manager, John Owen.