8 November 1996


MAKING high quality grass silage and big bale lucerne silage allows one Dorset sheep producer to avoid buying in feed, even during a drought.

But producing the top quality silage needed to do this has meant investing in machinery for his 1000 ewes, claims Robert Hyde of Manor Farm, Wool.

Contractors would be cheaper, he admits, but less flexibile.

"Good grass silage is made when the sun is shining and by following a few basic rules." These include cutting the crop before it heads, and wilting to achieve a 28% dry matter crop.

"Because we bale and wrap ourselves, we have complete control. No bales sit in the field for more than an hour unwrapped. And they must be wrapped properly."

Mr Hyde also grows 10ha (25 acres) of lucerne which is cut four times a year for silage. "It is a good drought tolerant crop because it has a long tap root, and a fantastic feed because it is a legume and so is high in protein. The ensiled crop is over 20% crude protein and because of its deep rooting system, it contains a high level of minerals."

The lucerne silage has an energy level of up to 12.5MJ/kg ME. It is made in round bales using a grass processor that chops the crop to improve its value.

Weeds are a problem in lucerne crops, admits Mr Hyde, but he controls these by winter spraying. The crop requires no nitrogen fertiliser, but phosphate and potash are applied after every cut. New crops are established after winter barley and the first crop is cut the next summer. Crops generally last four seasons.

Cereal screenings from home-grown malting barley are also fed as whole-grain to the sheep. But last year these were offered with purchased protein pellets because silage protein was low.

"Protein pellets are bought carefully. We seek undegradable digestible protein sources but are trying to find alternatives to fishmeal such as prairie meal."

Even though the main part of the flock is lambed in December, concentrate feeding is minimal for there are grass herbage seed crops to graze. Some of the grazing area is also saved so ewes have fresh grass.

"The protein level in this grass is good, so we make use of it," he says. This takes ewes and lambs into January when they are supplemented with lucerne silage in a round bale feeder. Mr Hyde weans lambs onto stubble turnips at eight weeks old and uses the crop to take them through to finishing. From weaning the ewes are fed big bale lucerne silage and the aftermath of stubble turnips left by the lambs.n

Drought tolerant lucerne makes excellent high protein silage for the 1000 ewes at Manor Farm.


&#8226 Sheep: 500 Pedigree Dorset Downs, 250 milking Frieslands, 250 Romneys.

&#8226 Cropping: 80ha (200 acres) of riverside pasture, 240ha (600 acres) arable, 10ha (25 acres) of lucerne.