As the harvest – weather permitting, hopefully draws to a close, this month seems like a good time to talk about how this year’s cropping has gone for us. In addition to 154ha of grass (permanent and temporary), we also grew 31ha of winter wheat and 23ha of spring wheat.
Growing both spring and winter wheat not only allows us to fulfil our three-crop obligation but is also useful in spreading the work load throughout the year as we try and balance field work with the day job of milking cows three times a day
In addition to these forage acres we obviously had our Ecological Focus Area (EFA) requirement, which this year amounted to 5ha of fallow as a field of mustard and radish which had been established as green cover last autumn.
It has seemed to work well for weed suppression over the summer and should also help add organic matter to the field when we plough it back in before sowing winter wheat this autumn.
Grass silage is really our key forage each winter, so to maximise our first cut we only graze fields that aren’t suitable for harvesting (ie those with boggy bits) in the early spring. We tend to take our first cut quite early (May 8, this year thanks to the good weather) and once this is done we then turn the remainder of our young stock and the in-calf milking cows onto fields of aftermath.
We take very much a belt-and-braces attitude to our silage: Tedding the grass out as soon as we can after cutting to aid wilting, and adding silage additive to help the fermentation process in the pit.
We also bought a Silopactor (basically a frame carrying train wheels) four years ago to help with pit consolidation and this does make a big difference particularly on the shoulders.
Second cut was taken just under six weeks after the first. Some years we take this as two blocks so we get regrowth at different stages for the grazing cows but this year we were worried about it getting too mature so we harvested it as one.
Our third cut was taken in a small break in the weather in mid-August. And, third and fourth (in years when we get it) cuts are generally lower quality, so feed the youngstock through the winter.
In years gone by, we would have grown barley for ensiling as wholecrop, but over time we’ve shifted to wheat. It does require much higher inputs, particularly for disease control, but on balance we feel that it gives the cows the better forage. Unlike the grass silage where we use only a biological additive; for the wholecrop we also add a chemical preservative to inhibit mould formation.
A layer of grass silage is also put on top of the wholecrop in order to discourage the crows which might otherwise peck holes through the netting and plastic sheets to get at the grain.
While all the spring wheat was ensiled, we decided to combine and crimp the majority of the winter wheat this year. We had hoped that in addition to giving us grain to supplement the ground maize we buy to feed the cows, it would fulfil our straw requirements.
In the end, the weather went against us though. We got the combining done over two days but the straw then got wet before we could get it baled. A shake through with a wiffler got it dry again a few days later, but although fine for bedding it’s not really the feed quality we’d hoped for.
That said, overall we realise we’ve been quite lucky in catching weather breaks when we have over this past so-called ‘summer’.
Although that luck must have run out as, as I write this, we have a ploughed field sitting for grass seed in anticipation of a weather window that hasn’t materialised!
More positively, we have in the last few weeks at least been able to get the settled sand dug out from the cow shed. This biennial event takes about five days, and next time I’ll talk about why we think it’s time well spent.

Silage analysis 2017
    1st     2nd     3rd
DM (%)    33    33    23
Protein (%)    16.7    15.0    17.2
ME (MJ/kg)    12.1    10.8    10.4