Most farmers would have produced some cracking quality silage last year, with the prolonged warm, sunny weather boosting dry matter levels while also aiding the preservation process. However, attention to detail is still required to produce the very best.

For last year’s AgriScot beef and sheep clamp silage winners, Jamie McIntyre and his father Ian, who farm at Milton of Cullerlie, Echt, that means continuous rolling in the pit and sealing it with two new sheets every year.

The duo, who also won the best new entrant in the North of Scotland silage competition in the clamp section, also pay close attention to soil pHs and regular reseeding to ensure the best quality feed ¬– fed either as grass or silage - is available for their expanding Salers cow herd.

“Last year we were able to produce the best quality silage for a long time,” said Jamie, who between him and his father and neighbour Stewart Black do all the harvest work themselves.

“Making good quality silage is 90% luck and last year the weather just made it. We have always been fortunate to be able to make reasonable quality silage, with most of our previous crops producing silages with D Values in the high 60s and ME’s of 10-11MJ/kg dry matter. Last year was the best though.”

Their winning silage was cut over two days on May 31 and June 1 – in the afternoons when the sugars are highest – and was harvested 24-48hours later to produce a winning pit silage yielding a 72D Value at 30.5% dry matter and ME of 11.6g/kg of dry matter. Crude protein was 130g/kg of dry matter with a pH of 3.9.

The fields which comprised 50 acres were cut over two days with a 10ft Kuhn mower conditioner, left to wilt for 24hours and harvested with their own Taarup trailed forage harvester. No additive was used or has been used in the past, although the McIntyres did say they would consider it during a bad spell of weather.

They do however, always pay close attention to consolidating and sealing the pit.

“All the grass from the 50acres first cut is stored in the one inside L-shaped pit which is really awkward to get in to and out of and the reason why we do our own silage work,” said Jamie.

“Grass has to be tipped outside because there is not enough room for a tractor and trailer to unload it in the shed, so it then has to be buckraked from there into the pit and rolled as much as possible. As soon as the last load is in, it’s double sheeted.”

The boys who run a herd of almost 100 Salers females of which half are bulled to a Charolais and the remainder to a Salers to breed fast growing, easy calving replacements, also believe the use of a clear cling seal film used first to sheet the pit, assists in the fermentation process.

According to the manufacturers, such sheets provide a low permeability to oxygen, which therefore creates a better fermentation process and in turn produces a higher quality feed with less wastage.

Ian added: “We never used to get much wastage, but we would always have a bit around the shoulders of the pit, but the clear wrap has definitely helped that. It does seem to cling to the silage better which with a black plastic cover on top and tyres helps prevent further air getting in.”

There is a lot more to making superior quality silage than harvesting though. With just 160 acres at Milton of Cullerlie, plus an additional 50 acres rented seasonally, all fields have to work hard to ensure adequate feed supplies for the beef herd and its young stock.

Hence, soil analysis is a regular occurrence here, with each field analysed every five to six years and limed accordingly.

“You get a better response to nitrogen fertiliser the closer soil pHs are to 6.0,” said Ian adding that the lowest recorded at Milton of Cullerlie has been 5.7.

With cow numbers on the up, the McIntyres often don’t have enough grass to shut off individual fields to reseed them, they do however, under sow 10-15-acres of the 25acres barley grown every year with HF11, a dual purpose medium term perennial ryegrass and clover seed mixture from Gordon Stewart at Agrii.

They have also discovered ‘stitching in’ ryegrass and white clover seed to be a good alternative to boosting grass quality when fields are tight.

Care is also taken to keep on top of moles and all silage fields are rolled in the spring.

Up until four or five years ago when the family ¬– Ian and his wife Audrey, and Jamie and his wife Kirsty and their two sons, Hamish and Lachlan - also ran a commercial ewe flock, they were unable to harvest any silage until the middle of June. However, when the sheep were sold off in 2015 to increase Salers cow numbers, they have been able to bring forward grass harvesting when all youngstock and the autumn calvers are wintered inside. Only the spring calvers and bulling heifers are out wintered and remain outside even during calving.

In wintered cattle also produce valuable farmyard manure, which is used to give a light covering on silage fields during the winter. The first artificial fertiliser ¬– 150kg per acre of a 20:5:12 + sulphur ¬– is usually applied at the end of March/beginning of April, depending on the weather and soil temperature, with a further 50kg per acre of CAN nitrogen given as a top dressing three weeks later.

The aim is to harvest first cut crops just before the grass starts to flower to produce the best quality silage for growing youngstock. Second cut silage in contrast, is left that wee bit longer to add bulk before cutting as it is baled using a Claas chopper baler and fed to the cows.

Second cut also receives a light covering of slurry a week after harvest and is given a further 150kg/ac of Aftercut to boost yields.

With no sheep, and silage able to be cut earlier now, the McIntyres have also been able to take a third cut in recent years, although with the continued dry weather last year, that was not possible. Instead, they ended up having to feed silage for three to four weeks of the summer because the grass had dried up so much.

This year they do nevertheless hope to be able to take a third cut especially when grass quality is so much better with all fields made up of younger leys.

“You get so much more grass growing and better quality grass with younger leys, although it does take a couple of years to get them fully established,” said Jamie.

“Younger grass is just so much more vigorous and weather dependant, usually allows us to get a third cut in September/October.”

The father and son team who also run a successful garden maintenance firm have also been experimenting with block/paddock grazing, which they have found increases grass growth more than the traditional set stocking.

“We have found we can keep more cows on fewer acres with paddock grazing and we hope to do more of it this year with the use of a solar panel pump that pumps water out of burns to fill the extra water troughs needed,” said Ian.

In saying that they were also quick to point out that grass growth is also very much dependant on the weather.

“In the 1980s, you could grow 50-60 acres of good quality hay no problem, but the weather pattern has completely changed. In previous years, it would have been too dry here for intensive grassland, but with the exception of last year, grass growth has been so much better due to the wetter, milder climate.”

And, by producing better quality grass and forages, the duo hope to be less reliant on bought in feeds thereby reducing their overall costs of production.

As it is, the McIntyres do all their own farm work except the 25 acres of barley grown per year, which is combined by a contractor, and wrapping of the silage bales. But then, with their gardening business taking up at least three often four days a week of their time travelling into Aberdeen and as far west as Aboyne, it is a good job, there are contractors to help out at what is probably the busiest time of the year for everyone.