The Secret's in the Science®

Care In Silage Making Allows Cutbacks On Feed

August 2017 | News

Attention to detail in silage making has landed James Burton, Cheddleton, Staffordshire, a top place in Agri-Lloyd’s annual silage competition. Peter Hollinshead discovers the secrets of his success.

You perhaps would not expect to find an award-winning silage maker among the undulating terrain of North Staffordshire within spitting distance of the rocky Peak District National Park.

Yet James Burton is totally focused on making top quality forage, despite the 600ft altitude and banky fields he has to negotiate with tractor and forager.

His single-minded objective is to keep concentrate purchases down to the minimum and take as much milk as he can from home-produced forage, and he is currently doing 4500 litres from forage – more than half the 8500-litre average yield.

James farms a total of 122 hectares (300 acres) of owned and rented land at Yew Tree Farm with wife Joanna and parents Ken and Sue, and the family runs a 180 herd of Holstein-Friesians with 100 followers and, apart from 24ha (60 acres) of maize, the whole farm is down to grass.

He works closely with his con-sultant Joe Youdan, who offers herd nutritional advice and has the grass and silage analyses done too.

James says: “It surprised me when Joe told us last year’s first cut was so good he would like to enter it for the competition.”


First Cut 2016
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  • Dry Matter: 40%
  • Crude Protein: 14.1%
  • D-value: 78.4
  • ME: 12.6
  • pH: 3.9
  • NH3: 3.1%
  • Sugar: 4.2%
  • Ash: 9.8%
  • ND Fibre: 35%
  • AD Fibre: 28.8%
  • Oil: 3.8%
  • VFAS: 1.26%
  • Lactic Acid: 14.2%
  • Intake Value: 121

James readily admits he did nothing different last year, but it is clear to see his attention to detail is apparent in the care he takes in ensuring his silage making is as good as he can possibly make it.

The regime starts at the end of March when the 61ha (150 acres) of first cut ground will get 5000 gallons/ha (2000 gallons/acre) of thin slurry and 150kg/ha (60kg/acre) of 27.5.5 with 7% sulphur.

James says: “We try to put them on before rain, as it washes them into the surface before all the goodness has gone out of them.”

Then when the time approaches for cutting, which is anytime bet-ween May 15-20, a grass sample is taken to ensure nitrates are low and sugars are reasonably high.

He says: “Last year, because of the season, we went earlier on May 14, so grass was a bit younger and not started to show any heads.”

Once he is satisfied nitrates are low, he gets into action. Mowing starts after midday when sugars should be high, and his two 8ft disc mowers are put to work to leave a flat wide swath to dry.

Contrary to popular practice, the grass is not tedded at all, but the next day two swaths are raked into one with a Lely Rotonde rake.

The Lely Rotonde puts the wet underside on top when rowing up. This year’s first cut showing the final covering of lorry

This has been specially chosen by James as the tines work at a much shallower angle and more or less turn the swath completely over, underside exposed, into one swath.

James says: “I like grass to be damp. We don’t ted it – there is no point as it only introduces soil.”

James has the luxury of his own trailed forager, a JF 1060, which he describes as a ‘brilliant machine’, and which gives him the flexibility of not having to wait on a contractor’s list.

With the help of neighbours and four side-filling trailers, he can clear about 28ha (70 acres) a day. While he is not too bothered about chop length, he is concerned about consolidation at the clamp.

Here, a JCB Loadall shifts grass with sufficient speed to allow vital time to give it a good rolling as the clamp is filled.

So important is compaction, and one reason James likes to collect the grass damp, that he will even put another tractor on to help roll the tricky corners in the roofed clamp.

Although none of the equipment is new, and indeed some is many years old, James accepts there is money tied up in machinery.

But, he says: “It is all about our winter feed and we cannot afford to get it wrong.”

A powder additive, HM Inoculant, is added through the Gandy dispenser direct onto the feed roller at the rate of one bag per 40 tonnes or about 2ha (5 acres).

While the use of the additive was initially at the consultant’s suggestion, James agrees it has its place in cutting down ensilage risks.

“We daren’t risk not using an inoculant. I am convinced by it and it turns grass into silage quickly. Because it speeds up fermentation, it means you get less nutrient loss.”


As the silage clamp is under cover with concrete walls, no shoulder sheet is used. Instead, the well rolled grass is covered with Silostop, then black plastic, followed by lorry tarpaulins and tyres.

Last year’s first cut analysed at 40% DM, 12.6ME, 14.1% crude protein and 78.4 D-value with an intake potential of 121.

Contrary to what might be expected, James is not a big ryegrass fan, but prefers what he calls ‘softer grasses’. These, he claims, are not so stemmy and do not thin out in the sward as readily over time as ryegrasses do.

He says: “Ryegrasses do not seem to dry out the same. If you have ryegrass, you will have to ted it.”

The herd is on a Tesco contract with all-year-calving., and is fed a total mixed ration through summer.

James says yields rocket when the first cut is introduced in September, but admits it is difficult to calculate the precise effect as his top quality silage comes in as grass value wanes.

Consequently, it is difficult to differentiate and quantify the two opposing effects.