23rd May 2017 | News
Regularly reseeding pasture, cutting grass at the correct time and clamp consolation is the secret to producing award winning silage, according to one Cumbrian farmer.
Steven Hunter, who farms with his wife Mandy, son Harry, dad Tony and mum Margaret at Berrier Head Farm, Penrith, won the Agri-Lloyd silage competition this year out of 700 samples analysed and netted a prize fund of £6,000.
Mr Hunter believes it’s important to have good grass going into the clamp. He reseeds 50-80 acres of grass every year with a quality hardy grass and has pastures on a seven-year reseeding cycle.
Cutting 750 acres across three cuts, Mr Hunter applies all of his slurry in one week, with fertiliser applied the week after. “This means all the grass is ready to cut at the same time,” says Mr Hunter.
Prior to cutting, he sends two to three samples of grass to Agri-Lloyd for free pre-cut grass testing and when energy, protein and sugar are at the correct level and the nitrogen is out of the grass, he will look at cutting, when the weather suits.
Grass is cut and then left to wilt for up to 48 hours, with the aim of making a silage with a 30% dry matter.
To prevent grass from getting too dry, Mr Hunter does not ted the grass out that much and instead just uses the mower to spread it out. “If you ted it out and keep running over the grass with the tractor, it will make it worse,” he adds.
When the grass is in the clamp he has two to three machines rolling it. “The secret is getting it rolled hard and getting a really tight compaction,” he says.
A multi-strain bacterial inoculant is applied to the grass to speed up the fermentation process. “We have been using HM Inoculant for 30 years. Even if the weather’s not that great the inoculant has helped make the silage better.”
To make the clamp air tight, a cellophane sheet is applied at the bottom, then a black sheet followed by a heavy green sheet, which is weighted down with tyres. “We then hope for the best,” says Mr Hunter.
The size of clamp is also important for feeding good quality silage, believes Mr Hunter. “You don’t want the clamp face to be too big. Ideally you need to get across the face in 2-3 days to keep the silage face fresh.”
The clamp at Berrier Head is 180ft long by 60ft wide and 12/14ft deep. “This is an ideal amount for the number of cows we have.” Mr Hunter is milking 300 Holstein Friesians, with an average yield of 28l a day, with butterfats of 4.25% and protein 3.26.
Cows are fed silage all year round, with 10-12t of silage fed to cows a day with the addition of some cake and brewer’s grains. “If the silage is not right, then we will suffer all winter,” he adds.
“Even in the summer, when the cows are out, they are brought in at night and fed silage. It helps keep the butterfats up,” says Mr Hunter.
Mr Hunter was picked for first prize , because of his excellent clamp management.
A shortlist of finalists were drawn from over 700 samples of grass analysed from across the UK. A point system was used to score the silage samples and then the top 50 samples were analysed in greater detail.
Ten finalists were then visited by a judging panel, which included James Ireland, dairy product manager at Agri-Lloyd, Dr Joe Youdan and independent judge David Hodgson, who has worked in the industry for over 20 years.
Mr Ireland says the clamp at Berrier Head is one of the best he’s ever seen.
“Every bit of the clamp was the consistent. It was well consolidated, there was no effluent and he is maximising every bit of the silage he is feeding to his cows.
“Mr Hunter has attention to detail and he understands what he can get from grass and is achieving it.”