MIXED weather during the summer of 2016 might not have done much to bolster the quantity and quality of silage crops across the country, but some careful management and a switch to producing solely bale silage resulted in a bumper year for Kevin Adams.

Such was the quality of the silage produced on the 240 acres between the homestead at Sillerton and the neighbouring Wester Milltown, on the outskirts of Auchterless, near Turriff, that Kevin bagged first and second place in the bale section of the North of Scotland Grassland Society (Norgrass) competition with what was his first ever entry.

“It wasn’t a great silage analysis for a good year but it was phenomenal for the last year considering the weather,” pointed out Kevin, who runs 75 home-bred Simmental cross cows plus followers with help from wife Marie and grown-up children, David and Laura.

The Scottish Farmer:

          These forward stores are thriving on a silage-based diet    

“I changed the way of doing silage this year as we were previously half pit and half baled, but this year baled it all to get better silage as and when we could harvest it. We’ve got our own cutting and wrapping equipment so with help from our neighbours, Ian and Neil Crawford, who happen to be contractors, to rake and bale it meant we could do each individual field when it was ready.

“It’s more or less down to timing – we made 1200 bales last year but not every bale is as good as the winning sample,” said Kevin, adding that silage is a very important nutritional component of the cows’ diet as it is fed in an ad-lib system along with straw and topped up with a small quantity of home-grown barley as well as minerals.

The Scottish Farmer:

               A sample of the winning silage

Landing the top nod in the Norgrass competition was a sample of silage made from first year grass taken during the first cut between June 1 and June 20, which had dry matter content of 34%, a D value of 73.6% as well as metabolisable energy (ME) value of 11.8MJ per kg DM. Combined with protein and sugar levels of 123g and 50g per kg DM, it’s clear to see why the winning sample stood out.

The second placed sample, which this time was three-year-old grass cut on the same day, came back with a DM content of 52%. Although it looked a lot more palatable and smelt a lot sweeter than the winning sample, it was considered almost too dry and it was thought it may have a lower intake as a result.

While the winning samples were harvested during the summer, the order of sequence to get to this stage begins during the winter months when Kevin takes in some 300 ewes from October to mid-March for winter grazing. They graze on the Kingsford Spey grass mix from George Duncan Agrisolutions – a combination of perennial ryegrasses, timothy and white clovers used in a six-year rotation alongside spring barley for malting, as well as for re-seeding permanent pasture.

“I like a high clover content in the seed mix to help retain nitrogen in the soil, and it makes the silage that bit sweeter too,” commented Kevin.

Grazing sheep on the chosen areas helps to encourage early grass growth, which is then aided by the application of fertilisers shortly after the ewes are removed.

“In early April we apply a 16:16:16 fertiliser mix to get the potassium and phosphorus levels on, then usually a 25:5:5 or 27:5:5 mix a fortnight later. Before we take the second cut we apply more of the 25:5:5 as well as lime if required, and tend to work sulphur through all the fertiliser to aid with growth,” Kevin said, adding that application of farmyard manure on the silage fields is limited to prevent raking any residual dung back in and contaminating the bales, with the natural fertiliser only applied to 40 of the 100 acres of grazing grass.

“We cut the grass just at the pre-flowering stage when possible, and don’t like more than 50% of the crop to flower as it gets too stalky. For the first time, we spread the conditioned grass behind the mower and think it made a difference as even if it does get rained on, at least it’s not getting in to the centre of the bout so it dries quicker and more evenly.”

“Once the crop has been left to wilt for 48 hours, it is raked and baled so that the only handling done in the field is to gather it in to bigger bouts to feed the baler.”

The careful management continues once the initial cutting and baling has been done, as all bales are manoeuvred using a cradle handler.

“I don’t like the thought of air getting in to the bale once it is wrapped, so we cradle everything when handling. I feel this takes out the element of introducing air to the bale and results in less spoilage in the centre of bales,” highlighted Kevin.

Making the decision to produce only baled silage has not only reaped the rewards of a higher quality silage to offer his livestock, but has also freed up some space in the undercover silage clamp for storing straw, fertiliser and machinery.

But it’s the cattle enterprise that is the bread and butter for Kevin’s farm units, and good quality silage means better nutrition for the spring-calving herd and resulting offspring.  

The Scottish Farmer:

          Cows tuck in to the home-grown bale silage, which is fed alongside straw, barley and minerals        

In another change from previous years, Kevin has switched from a 50:50 store calves to finished cattle ratio as selling store cattle offers better returns. He is now selling his ‘first draw’ calves as yearlings, with the second draw nearly a year later once they’ve had a summer to graze and a winter inside to utilise the silage. The latest batch of predominantly Charolais-sired calves sold through Thainstone in February to average a take-home price of £1240 at 20 to 22 months, while the first draw sold last spring to average £1000.

“It’s important to watch the weather for that window of opportunity – we’ll even sometimes cut when it’s wet if the next few days look dry as it gives the grass plenty time to dry out. But having our contractor neighbours so handy makes a huge difference, as does the better management of grassland,” added Kevin.

There’s always something to do at Sillerton and Wester Milltown, and with the over-wintered ewes heading away in the next few weeks, the whole silage process will start all over again so here’s hoping for some top results in next year’s competition.