By Jacqueline Pettigrew

Photographs by Emma Cheape

For many producers, silage making has been a tricky task over the last few years with many struggling to get decent yields let alone decent quality of silage due to some of the most unpredictable weather for decades.

Last summer, however, the country was blessed with a steady few months of consistent heat and sunshine and so the country’s grassland competition saw superb quality and some fierce competition and none more so than in the East of Scotland.

Robin Ferguson farms the 630-acre arable unit of East Camps, just outside Dunfermline, in partnership with wife Mary, son John 15, and daughter Lynn who is 12. Robin was this year’s winner of the East of Scotland Grassland Society’s Zeneca Ecobate Trophy for the best baled silage, before going on to win the salver for the best silage overall.

Having never entered the competition before, Robin’s entry was submitted by the SAC after his bale silage had been analysed by the group in November.

“It came very much as a surprise that I was entered in the competition, never mind that I had won it!” exclaims Robin.

“I’ve always taken pride in the quality of my silage, but there is no doubt that the weather played a massive part last year, and our first cut was exceptionally good”.

The silage at East Camps is grown primarily to feed the 250 finishing cattle which are bought in each year.

“We have always finished cattle on the farm here. My family came here around 1900 and John will be the fifth generation. We are ideally set up for it, being able to grow our own feed in barley and silage, as well as straw for bedding - so we can keep our costs to a minimum”, explains Robin.

The cattle are bought in, mainly through the United Auction ring in Stirling, at around 14-16 months of age, and are sold on at 24-25 months. They are fed twice a day, and it was evident on our visit that they are definitely enjoying the silage!

Around 90-acres of grass is cut first, with 50-acres getting a second cut. The grass worked in rotation with the arable acres of winter and spring barley and wheat, and oilseed rape.

Much of the winter barley goes into the tower for feed, with the remainder sold on. The spring barley goes for malting.

“We re-seed every six or seven years, the grass that provided the silage last year is actually coming to the end of its time. It was HF11 seed mix from Frontier”, says Robin.

When it comes to fertiliser application, 4 cwt of 22-4-14 with some sulphur added is applied, and the ground is later topped up with nitrogen.

But it’s getting the timings of cutting and wilting right that is one of the main aspects of good quality silage.

Robin does much of the work himself throughout the year, bringing in local contractor Mark Roberts, of Craigduckie, at silage time to cut and bale, and sharing machinery and some of the work with his neighbour, Jim Wylie of Knockhouse.

“Jim and I share a rake and spreader, while I have my own wrapper. Working with a good contractor and doing much of it ourselves with well maintained machinery also helps a speedy harvest time with minimal breakdowns.

We were lucky with our crop from the winning sample as it was all done within a three-day period of really dry weather. The crop was cut after 5pm on the 6th June, it lay before spreading on the 7th, it was rowed up on the 8th and chopped and baled on the 9th. That’s a day longer than I would normally leave it, but the weather was great.

I double wrapped it this time, which is what I’d always do when it’s so dry, and I always bring to the stack to wrap, to prevent bursting the bales. I put a bird-scarer up, but birds have never really posed a problem and the bales stay well wrapped. Under those dry conditions of last year, it wasn’t a record crop, I got eight bales to the acre, and around 1200 bales in total.”

So how has this mild dry winter helped on the farm? “We are well up to date with arable work. I have Lily and Zula winter wheat in the ground as well as Escadre and Orwell winter barley, and those are looking well. I have Fairing spring barley which will be going in very soon. I work with Scottish Agronomy and have been really pleased with the arable crops of late”.

And although Robin produced a prize-winning crop of silage this year, he insists he will have to wait until next year’s crop is analysed before entering the competition again.

“The luck of the weather no doubt played its part - we shall just have to keep our fingers crossed for another great summer this time round.”


Winning silage analysis

Dry matter 374

D Value 73.0

ME 11.7

Protein (g/kg) 149

Sugar 86

Oil (g/kg DM) 40

NDF (g/kg DM) 444