7 May 1999


A shift in the way silage is

made at Mackies Dairies,

Aberdeenshire, has seen

dry matter intakes rise

considerably, resulting in a

significant concentrate

saving of about £55 a cow

HIGH dry matter silage is the key to reducing concentrate consumption and increasing profitability, reckons Gavin Dick, farms director at Mackies Dairies, Scotlands premium quality icecream producer.

It is improved silage quality which has seen the farms annual rolling concentrate use drop from 0.31kg/litre to 0.25 kg/litre, which at £138/t of concentrates, represents a saving of £55.47 a cow.

"It is our objective to consistently produce high-quality forage to benefit the farms icecream-making business," explains Mr Dick. "Forage is much cheaper than concentrates, providing you can make consistently high-quality silage."

From Westertown, Rothienor-man, Aberdeenshire, Mackies Dairies currently relies on a mix of Holstein Friesians and Jerseys to produce over 4m litres of high quality icecream a year. In the premium icecream stakes, the company holds 47% of the Scottish market, 11% of the UK market and is the fourth largest producer of premium icecream in the UK.

Herd size is currently 480, though Mr Dick plans to streamline cow numbers while maintaining the same quality and volume of milk required for the farms icecream making facility – but without eating into his margin.

Until last season, the dry matter content of Mackies silage varied wildly from 19-35%, year-on-year. There was no consistency or quality to the silage, which kept the pressure on supplementary feeding. This year, dry matter is close to 30%.

"Im involved with Udny dairy discussion group which includes 21 dairy herds which meets to discuss silage quality and dry matter content," he says. "Mackies was confined to the bottom end of the group until this years silage analysis was carried out – now were at the top end."

Mr Dicks silage analysis for the 1998 second cut crop revealed 29.8% DM, 69 D value, an ME of 11 and a pH of 4.3 – and the only fundamental change to the entire operation was a change in mowing to Vicons HPC, replacing an autoswather mower conditioning system.

"The weather is very catchy here in Aberdeenshire, and what makes matters worse is producing silage at 800ft above sea level. Rainfall is a certainty and we only have a narrow window of opportunity to make our silage," he says, which perhaps explains why 6m of grass was heaped into one swath, wilted, then clamped as fast as possible.

"Our target mowing date was deliberately seven days late to try and make drier silage," he says.

Mr Dick still cuts the same width, but now uses a front and rear Vicon HPC combination; this leaves the grass spread over the full 6m cutting width for a 24 hour wilt. Rowing up takes place about four hours ahead of a contractors self-propelled forager and the whole process is wrapped up within three days. Two cuts are made from a total of 70ha (173 acres), with each cut yielding about 1500t of grass.

"We chose the HPC for the intensive conditioning – its ability to scrape wax off the leaves without damaging the cell structure of the crop is critical to maintain the nutrients within the grass during the wilting process," he says. "And at 6m wide, we can achieve a good overall mowing output."

In the parlour, Mr Dick reports the increased silage quality has been quantified with a reduction in concentrate feeding.

"With the Holsteins, we are still producing 6700 litres/cow at 3.9% butterfat, but our annual rolling concentrate usage has dropped from 0.31kg/litre to 0.25 kg/litre – at £138/tonne of concentrates, this represents a saving of £55.47 a cow," he says.

The Jerseys – relative newcomers to the Mackie herd – have yet to be analysed in the same way, but Mr Dick expects the improvements in forage quality to present itself in the form of an increase in Jersey performance. Currently, they contribute 4600 litres a cow at 6.15% butterfat.

"If we can make such a significant improvement in our silage quality during a bad year, then I am confident we can produce excellent silage in a good year," he says. &#42

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