17 May 2002

SOMEPREFEROWNSILAGING

While the majority of the

UKs silage is now made by

contractors, there are still

those who prefer to make

their own. Geoff Ashcroft

looks at how a

Staffordshire farm manages

its silage operation

CONCERN about silage quality is the main reason that JL & EM Parker and Son of Houghton Villa Farm, Houghton, Staffordshire, has opted to make its own silage since 1973.

"We spend a lot of time rolling and attending to the clamp to ensure we do the best we can to make the highest possible silage quality," explains Brian Parker. "We believe that filling the clamp is the most important element in preserving forage quality, and opting to make our own silage means we can find the time to make a fuss of the clamp."

Before the forager goes in search of grass each day, Mr Parker says the first job is an hours clamp rolling, to ensure adequate consolidation of forage. And every night during silage making, the farms outdoor clamp is sheeted over, just in case weather conditions deteriorate.

It is a system that appears to work well for the 500-acre family-run dairy farm. With over 700 animals to feed, including 265 milking cows plus followers and beef cattle, the family business can also plan its silage-making to fit in with milking and other daily chores around the livestock enterprises.

To ensure that enough winter forage is available for their animals, the Parkers aim to ensile 350-400 acres of silage on a three-cut system. First cut is said to be a 200-acre workload which takes the farm about seven days to complete. An outdoor clamp takes the first cut crop, with an indoor clamp used for second and third cuts.

"We aim to start first cut on around May 15, though if the ground is too wet or the sugar content is too low, we can wait," explains son-in-law Colin Johnson. "When a contractor says hes coming, youre stuck with that decision – were not. But being in the hands of the weather, we can start and stop silaging when we like, to ensure we get the dry matter we want."

Equipment for the task includes a Taarup 338 trailed mower conditioner, Reco Mengele SH40N flywheel type forage harvester, three 10t trailers and a Manitou telehandler on the clamp. The forager is powered by a 135hp MF6290, which is a good match to the farms mowing operation.

"We plan to mow 30 acres every day, leave it to wilt for 24 hours, then pick it up the following day," he says. "We also prefer to side load our trailers, which avoids sunken hitches on soft ground, and with three 10-tonners, it also means the forager is seldom kept waiting."

It is a technique that runs smoothly and keeps the clamp supplied with a continuous flow of grass.

"A firm, evenly built clamp is the key for us," adds Mr Johnson. "And if we need to, we can also ted out, and rake up grass to suit."

Mr Johnson reckons that Houghton Villa Farm is fortunate in that it has plenty of available family labour to run such a machinery intensive silage team. However, the farm does need to draft in two extra casuals for tractor driving duties.

"Those who dont have the labour resources or the investment in equipment have little choice but to rely on contractors or machinery rings," he says. "Were not against either system, in fact we use contractors for maize harvesting. Its just that we like to be in control as much as we can – then we only have ourselves to blame if the job goes wrong.

"We also make a lot of hay and some round bale silage so we need the tedder, rake and mower for those operations too," he says. "Our biggest investment is in the forager and the 135hp tractor."

With a mixture of leys and turfs allocated to silage production around the farm, the Parkers plan their foraging operation so that different quality grasses are ensiled sequentially. And with every cut, the farm applies H/M powder innocculant to help the fermentation process.

"We build our clamp in long thin layers, so that fields are thoroughly mixed into the clamp," he explains. "It is a technique that avoids having deep pockets of different quality forage on the face of the clamp when were feeding.

"It might take a week or two to make because we do it ourselves at our own pace, but youre looking at poor quality feed all winter if you dont make it right."

"At 30 acres/day, its not a high output system, but one that gives us the quality forage we need," explains Colin Johnson.