Wholecrop delivers consistently

Fermented wholecrop has been one of the foundations of a successful dairy business for 15 years, proving it’s worth year on year. Tom Matthews farms at Common Farm, Uffington in the Vale of the White Horse. The farm is 850 acres with 450 acres of arable and 400 acres of grass. Soils are predominantly heavy clay loam. He runs a herd of 230 Holstein/Friesian cows crossed with Scandinavian Reds, having been cross-breeding for seven years.

Like all dairy farmers he is focused on maximising the value of milk sold under his contract while maximising production from forage to help control costs. The cows are managed as autumn and spring calving blocks to maximise the seasonality and he is looking to increase milk solids, currently averaging 4.2% fat and 3.3% protein. The cows are averaging 8750 litres with 2700 from forage.

Cows will typically graze from early April until late October and are buffer fed, mainly to support the spring calvers as they get back in calf. Autumn calvers are housed by night as they calve. Winter feeding is based on a TMR comprising 50:50 grass silage: fermented triticale wholecrop, HiPro Soya, home-grown urea treated wheat, ground maize, soya hulls, molasses, fat and minerals. Dairy compound is fed through a system of out of parlour feeders.

“Around 25 years ago we decided to look at feeding mixed forages to increase intakes and production from forage,” Tom comments.

“Like many farmers we decided to try maize and grew it for around 10 years but never really got on with it. “

“The initial varieties may have been suited to growing in Europe but did not get on with our soils. We had problems getting crops established and despite always going for early varieties, invariably found it difficult to establish follower crop.”

“Although we were growing enough to feed 15-20kg/cow/day we found we were fighting at both ends of the season and struggling to get a quality crop. Maize is a costly crop to grow if you only get a mediocre crop, so we decided to try wholecrop as we thought it would be better suited to the farm and were already growing cereals.”

For the last 15 years, Tom has been growing 60-80 acres of winter triticale for fermented wholecrop, a similar acreage to that previously used for maize. The crop has averaged 12t/acre but in a good year can yield 15t/acre. This is enough to allow 17-20kg/cow/day throughout the winter with enough left for buffer feeding where it helps maintain butterfats. Triticale works well on land not suited to wheat, spreads the harvest window reducing workload in peak harvest period and is cheaper to grow than wheat although Tom stresses it is important to treat cereals for wholecrop the same as a combinable crop.

“We look to cut the crop slightly green and cut it shorter as we find it ensiles better. The crop is treated with Biotal Wholecrop Gold and clamped using Silostop oxygen barrier cling film. The result is a very stable feed with minimal waste which analyses well.”

“The clamp face is 30 feet wide and we aim to get across in a week. In the summer we only take half grabs to make sure we are covering the face quickly. “

“The cows milk well on the forage and it really suits the farm, delivering consistent yields year after year. It comes off in good conditions, allowing us to follow it with oilseed rape. The only change to the diet has been to include ground maize.”

“The other great advantage is flexibility. We can look at first cut grass and decide what stocks will be like for the winter. If we think we are going to be tight it is easy to harvest an extra field of wheat for wholecrop.”

“If you grow maize and find stocks are going to be tight, your only options are to accept a yield reduction or get the cheque book out, something no-one wants to do with current milk prices. Wholecrop is helping us improve consistency and ensure good production from forage.”