If you make it, make sure you feed it!

With limited clamp space and foragable acres, reducing silage waste is a high priority for Steve Davey, his wife Charlotte and their daughters Becky and Marion who milk 220 cows in North Devon. The family moved to Higher West Town, Woolsery in 2013 with 160 cows from a previous partnership and have set about revitalising the unit.

Cows are currently milked through a 40 year old herringbone parlour which had been idle for 10 years, but by the end of the year there will be a purpose build unit with four robots.

“We had experience of robots at the previous farm and had always planned to go down that route,” Becky explains.

“The 180 foot new cubicle house for 236 cows has been designed with robots in mind, allowing plenty of space around the robots and easy cow flow. There will also be ample feed face so cows are able to eat as much as they want when they want, with feed pushed up using a Lely Juno.”

“While we currently feed through the parlour we are looking to install out of parlour feeders to improve overall efficiency and allow different feeds to be fed through the robots and the feeders.”

The TMR is made up of grass silage, Wessex Gold and a blend.

“We can grow good grass so the aim is to maximise production and utilisation,” Becky continues. “We have reseeded most of the long term leys and worked at improving soil pH, P and K levels.

“We look to take three cuts and occasionally four. First cut will be taken around 15- 20th May and we target 30-32% DM for all clamped silage. It is not an early farm but we go as soon as conditions allow.”

“There is no point going early with first cut, just to make a mess and reduce second and third cuts. First and second cut will be clamped and third cut baled. We are short of clamp space which is something we need to address.” 

Around 200 acres are taken for first cut and 160 acres for second cut. Using a contractor the target is to mow, ted and pick up in two days.

“We need to produce enough silage from the existing land as renting additional acres is incredibly difficult and this is why we focus on reducing waste to maximise the silage grown and made which can be fed. Besides being an enormous cost it has other impacts.”

“We have to spend more time cleaning the feed face to removed tainted feed. It can reduce intakes. Maximising forage DMI with a single forage is a big enough challenge as it is. Finally, while we graze we want to turn cows out when it suits us rather than when we have to. Wasting less silage gives us this option.”

“Any waste has to be removed, put into the pit and then spread meaning we lose time double handling rubbish.”

Working with Biotal Regional Business Manager Steve Symons, several changes have been made to the clamping of the silage. Steve says the key to reducing waste is to encourage a rapid initial anaerobic fermentation and then to prevent oxygen entering the clamp. Once opened the goal is to prevent heating. The clamp is sheeted with new sheets on each side, the back and top of the clamp. The sheets are weighted down with touching tyres, which are regularly checked for wear.

Last year half the clamp was also covered using Silostop, a true oxygen barrier and the difference was significant with a considerable reduction in total waste. This year the whole clamp has been covered using Silostop Max.

 “Waste silage cost around £90/tonne, made up of the £30 it costs to make a tonne of grass silage in the first place and £60 which is the cost of replacing the lost feed value with concentrates,” Steve explains.

“But by ensuring a good fermentation, losses due to visible waste can be significantly reduced.”

“In Becky’s case, reducing waste will have a significant impact as they move to the robot based system, maximising the production from the set farm acreage and reducing the dependence on purchased feeds.”

“Focusing on driving down waste will also give more control over key decisions such as turnout, as well as reducing the time spent dealing with the consequences of an avoidable problem.”