Plenty of grass but quality of silage uncertain
Delays to silaging and calf losses have combined to make June a frustrating month at Briscoe. Tim Relf reports
ATROCIOUS weather meant that silaging, which began at Briscoe on June 2, was not completed until June 19.
"It took us longer than ever," says Eddie Nicholson, who usually sees the 93ha (230 acres) first-cut completed in five days. "Not only was it raining but it was also dull between the rain, so the grass barely got a chance to dry."
But Mr Nicholson estimates that the amount harvested will be at least 2500t, about a third more than usual. As regards quality, he is uncertain, but thinks that it could be variable.
"We had some samples analysed on May 29 and they showed ammonia levels to be very low. The recommendation was to cut immediately. But, in fact, a lot of bulking up did take place after then.
"Dry matter levels may be in the 20 to 22% range and D values may be between 64 and 66," he suggests. "Sugar levels are expected to be low due to the lack of sunlight. And there will probably be some butyric patches where soil managed to get into the crop."
The bulky crop means that almost all of the clamp space is now full. Second-cut, which Mr Nicholson predicts will be taken at the end of July, will, therefore, be big-baled.
"We will probably take a smaller area than usual," he says. "And as even this will probably be surplus to our needs, we can always sell it in the winter.
"There is certainly a strong demand for grass at the moment," he adds, pointing to a recent field-gate sale which saw grass make £252/ha (£102/acre).
The Nicholsons have also decided against making any third-cut this year. The smaller area ensiled will, they point out, reduce fertiliser and contractor charges.
One notable success of silaging has been the performance of the new Lely 770 Stabilo tedder. "It helps improve dry matter content and, therefore, milk protein levels. Feed intake should also be improved and the amount of effluent reduced.
"It has performed well in this years wet and heavy conditions, which have been very demanding," says Mr Nicholson. "Although if it is as wet as this in future years its lifespan may not be as long as we had hoped."
Burst oil seal
In fact, the only mechanical casualty of silaging was a burst oil seal on a tractor driveshaft.
The prolonged wet weather has, however, caused other problems at Briscoe. The ground reached saturation point about June 10 and the result has been extensive poaching. And the recent hot, dry weather means the land is now too dry to roll.
Roads and field gateways have also suffered from the rain, leaving the Nicholsons glad that they had laid hardcore in the most vulnerable areas before the wet spell.
At one point they even considered getting the cows back in at nights. Each milking was taking an extra 20 minutes, as the cows required additional cleaning, and yields also began to suffer.
"We were losing 600 litres a day," says Mr Nicholson. "The grass was so wet and cold it was not palatable."
And though the weather has improved, output is still about 300 litres a day down on what it was at turnout.
"Giving the fresh-calvers an extra kilo of cake has helped to bring their milk yields back up. And the slightly lower output will help to reduce any pot- ential quota shortage," he reckons.
Concern has also been caused by the loss of a number of calves, possibly due to a selenium shortage. "Of the latest batch of 11, we have lost four calves," he says. "Normally the toll due to placentas separating is only perhaps one or two a year."
The vet has taken some blood samples but Mr Nicholson believes that a shortage of the element could be the explanation, as these were among the first heifers to spend an entire 18 months on some recently-purchased land. "Apparently a neighbouring farm experiences a selenium shortage," he points out.
Rather lose a calf
The lost value of the calves – sired by an Angus – is put at about £80 a head. "But I would rather lose a calf than a heifer," he says.
"These heifers were originally served so they would calve after first-cut silage had been taken. But because that dragged on we ended up with both jobs happening at the same time."
Three calves have also been recently lost from among the dry cows. "These cows were kept inside, partly to use up some of the old silage," says Mr Nicholson. "They appear to have been fighting and knocking each other while feeding.
"It has been a busy, frustrating time all round," he concludes. *
Analysis of standing grass