7 May 1999

DIY MAN IS THE SILAGE CHAMP

MACHINERY and power are a key factor in the success Gerwyn Owen, this years BGS champion, has achieved with his silage crop. He has resisted the fashion on many family run stock farms to hand the silaging job to contractors, preferring the do-it-yourself approach with his own forage harvester, a fleet of five tractors and mainly family labour.

This means a hefty investment in mechanisation at Pantigwiail, his 74ha (182 acre) all-grass farm at Dihewyd, Lampeter, Dyfed where he made 1700t of silage last year for his 108-cow dairy herd plus 75 followers.

Mr Owen, who farms at 770ft above sea level in a high rainfall area, considered calling in a silage making contractor, but turned the idea down.

"The problem is that there are a lot of farmers who all want to make their silage at the same time, particularly in a wet year, and if you rely on a contractor you have to wait your turn. Contractors are also under a lot of pressure to cover as much ground as possible, and that means starting early in the day and going on late in the evening," explains Mr Owen.

"I would rather be in control of the situation and decide exactly when to start in order to make the most of the weather opportunities. The weather can make a big difference to silage quality, particularly in a high rainfall area. Last year was a wet season, but we were able to get our first and second cut silage in good weather. I also prefer to wait until the dew is off the grass before I start cutting, and I dont like working late in the evening when the sugars are reducing, and thats another reason why I prefer to do the job ourselves."

Mr Owen says he is not simply anti-contractor. He uses a local contractor with an umbilical slurry system for some early season spreading, and he also calls in a contractor for baling and bale wrapping for small batches of silage.

Equipment used for the Owen familys silage making starts with a 9ft PZ mower-conditioner, and the swaths are moved with a Fahr tedder – Mr Owen has two of them to make the most of the weather opportunities. With lighter second and third cut crops, he prefers to avoid tedding if the weather is sunny, going straight to the windrowing stage with a Stoll machine.

His forage harvester is a flywheel type Claas Jaguar. This is his first switch from a cylinder machine, and he says there is a big improvement in the way the flywheel copes with uneven swaths. He kept his previous harvester, a Jaguar 60, because it is worth more as a standby than the dealer offered in a trade-in deal.

The size of the Case IH tractor fleet is matched to the peak demand for power in the silage season. The biggest tractor is a 95hp 956 for the forager, three 82hp models do the mowing, tedding and trailer work, and there is a 465 for the lighter jobs including windrowing.

Clamp filling is a job for the Kramer 312LE loader with four-wheel steering. This is Gerwyn Owens second Kramer and he is delighted with its performance on the clamp and for the other lifting, loading and stacking jobs on the farm, including powering a Shearguard silage blockcutter through the winter. The 312LE is, he says, the most versatile and useful machine on the farm and the only one used for 52 weeks in the year.

The driving team for silage work comes mainly from the Owen family and includes his wife Glenys, plus their son Andrew and his wife. They have one employee, and Mr Owen also has a two-way help arrangement with a neighbouring farmer who harvests later than the Owens. The availability of a full team of drivers is an important factor in Mr Owens decision not to use a contractor for the silage work.

As well as being in control of silage making, Mr Owen also likes to have the muck and slurry routine firmly under control. He achieved this four years ago when he installed a new underground slurry storage tank. The capacity is 400,000gal plus the freeboard, and it has made an enormous difference to the farms muck management routine, he believes – particularly during the recent wet winter when extra rainfall contributed to the volume of liquid.

"Slurry used to be a real problem because we only had storage capacity for about six weeks. I used to think the slurry was controlling me, but now I control the slurry which means we can make better use of the nitrogen content on the grass."

Mr Owen uses a Star vacuum tanker for slurry spreading when the fields are dry enough to take the weight. The tanker has a self-fill device for loading from the underground store, and Mr Owen has done his own modification to the suction pipe to release the vacuum pressure when the tanker is full, allowing a smoother release and less risk of a slurry spill.

"It makes the job much easier because the driver can release the pressure from the tractor cab," he says.

TOP TIPS FOR SILAGING

This years silage-making

season is almost upon us

again. James Garner picked

the brains of some

silage-making judges for

tips for the year ahead

MAKING good silage depends on the weather and some years it seems only those with divine knowledge can judge when there will be three dry days on the trot. The three judges of this years Kemira BGS silage-making national championship all agreed that last year was a difficult silage-making year.

Higher dry matter silages perform better, says farmer judge David Wallace, last years winner who farms at Ashdale Farm, County Antrim, Northern Ireland. "Of course this was difficult last year because it was so wet."

His other judges, Mitch Lewis, Edinburgh-based SAC nutritionist and Roger Chesher representing Kemira agreed. However, they all said the finalists achieved a high level of expertise.

"The silage analyses were not exceptional, averaging around 12 ME, on average they were 0.3-0.4 ME down on last year," says Dr Lewis "This reflected the weather. They also had lower sugar levels which was down to the cold spring."

Making the best use of good weather is an advantage, says Mr Wallace. "You only need two fine, dry days to get a good wilt. As long as you spread it out well, so it can wilt quickly. Some producers are spreading grass out themselves and then getting contractors to come in and make the silage."

But having young grass leys, which produce a better tasting and more digestible silage does not making wilting easy. "It can be wetter and more difficult," he adds.

Clamp management is also a key area and trying to minimise waste is what its all about here, says Dr Lewis.

"Really this is down to sheeting and covering the crop as completely as possible to reduce the amount of waste caused by air getting into the plastic."

Its particularly difficult around the shoulders of the clamp, and to have success the top sheet must overlap the ones below to ensure its airtight, says Dr Lewis.

And be careful what you use to cover the top, says Mr Wallace. "Straw bales encourage mice, which eat through the plastic. So tyres are better, but dont throw them on."

It may be extra work placing them on top of the clamp, but both judges agreed that this dedication to clamp management resulted in winning silage.

Feeding silage efficiently is all part of the BGS competition. The judges were impressed by the way the contestants did this effectively. Making the most from forage available is important, says Dr Lewis. Some producers do not use silage to its full potential, he added, because they overfeed concentrates.

Others were keen to provide stock with fresh ingredients including water. For example, one contestant uses a goldfish in the water trough, creating a symbiotic relationship. The goldfish is fed from the cows when they drink and the fish cleans their water.

Other important areas which are an integral part of silage making process are disposing of effluent and waste management, says Mr Chesher.

"Producers are beginning to use slurry as a resource now and know its value by using standard tables. Their storage facilities are environmentally friendly and well organised.

"Producers seem to have had a change of attitude as far as safety is concerned as well, says Mr Chesher. "Traceability and welfare will be the next challenge." &#42