Silaging sytems demo - options in the uplandsWednesday 23 May 2012
The Armstrong family at Terrace Farm, Lorton near Cockermouth were the hosts for a NW Livestock Programme demonstration event on 21st May on the topic of the different systems of making silage.
The event was aimed at upland livestock farmers and speakers included grassland advisor James Bretherton of Agscope and seed adviser David Long who is UK Agricultural Product Manager for Barenbrug. Andrew Parker of Carrs Billington also attended with an array of equipment including a mower conditioner, tedder and Einboc seeder/harrow unit.
James Bretherton stressed the importance of soil testing and demonstrated a robust field pH tester. If the soil is in the right condition the land will be more productive and farmers were advised to:
- Correct the soil’s pH.
- Check for compaction and sward lift every two to three years.
- Not to plough too deep as it can take years to get a good soil structure again.
- Avoid heavy applications of slurry as this will kill worms.
- Check P and K levels as nitrogen might be all that is needed.
David Long recommended that, when improving grassland, it is important to select good seed that suits your requirement from recommended grass and clover lists. Clover is particularly useful for reducing nitrogen fertilizer needs and, if spraying for weeds has killed the clover, farmers should consider the benefits of adding it back into the sward. Clover seed can be spread directly onto the top of soil and is relatively inexpensive.
Most of the seed sold in the UK is perennial ryegrass, but other types such as timothy and cocksfoot can play an important role in beef and sheep pastures. Timothy is winter hardy, has a low fertilizer need and can cope with both wet and drought conditions.
If the land is not suitable for new leys, then farmers could consider over seeding. This is easiest done after cropping by harrowing to ¼ inch depth until 25% of the cover is soil, over-seeding and then rolling ideally with a Cambridge roller. Ewes can be put in the field for a week to help trample the seed in and the ground should then be rested for a month before grazing for another week to reduce competition from established grass.
Leys high in red clover can produce two cuts of good silage and excellent “fog” for lamb finishing, but breeding sheep should be removed six weeks either side of tupping.
The benefits of rotational grazing to improve utilization of grass were explained. Grass height and growth can easily be measured and livestock moved to fresh grazing when the grass is at the appropriate height. Farmers were shown the rising plate meter that can be used to measure grass growth. Cattle should be moved into the paddock at 8-10cm grass height and removed at 4cms height. Sheep need a maximum of 4cm grass height. Farmers will reap the rewards if they assess their fields regularly and adjust grazing accordingly.
Some farms have invested in tracks for cattle to extend their grazing season and found the investment worthwhile.
When producing silage it is important to:
- Know the cost of production. Big bale silage can be 30% more expensive to produce than clamp silage, but wastage can be less.
- Consider which harvesting method suits your farm best. Forage wagons use 50% less fuel than self propelled systems but don’t work well if the grass is mature.
- If weather allows, cut grass at the optimum time. Sugar levels rise in the day so cutting between 11am and 4pm is best. High sugar levels will allow clamp silage to cool down quicker.
- Leave ¾ inches of stubble which will allow for better re growth.
- Ted out the grass and allow drying for a couple of days before rowing up for baling.
- Use techniques to reduce wastage and mould. These include wrapping big bales as soon as they are baled, using six wraps instead of four, particularly if the silage is likely to be kept for more than one year, and using cling film on clamped silage.
The feedback from the farmers was very positive, with most farmers planning to put some of what they had learnt on the day into practice on their farm.
Judith Weston (Farmer Network Coordinator)