How's your Silage?
“With the silage we make now, we’re feeding the same amount of concentrates with 1200 sheep as we were with 350” – Farmer Duncan McEwen, Arnprior Farm, Stirling
With the prospect of a crisis in winter fodder affecting many farmers already, Soil Association Scotland invited land managers to a series of practical events looking at the importance of silage: knowing what you’ve got and making the best of it.
Picture: Duncan McEwen
Sheep and arable farmer, Duncan McEwen of Arnprior Farm in Stirling, hosted a farm visit for one of the events. He says: “Growing good silage is a huge cost benefit. With the silage we make now, we’re feeding the same amount of concentrates with 1200 sheep as we were with 350, when we used to feed them hay.
“There’s no secret to it: good grass seed mixes, we use a clover mix; wilting it properly, and we cut it every 35 – 40 days before it goes to head to get the highest energy and protein for the ewes.
Store producer Steven Wylie of Swartland Farm in Orkney, who also hosted an event, makes the right type of silage (lower protein), for his system, to avoid cows producing too-big calves. As an organic farmer he avoids feed where he can, as it’s expensive.
Picture: Steven Wylie
“The cost of ploughing and reseeding for silage is offset against nitrogen fertiliser,” he says. “The year before I went organic I spent £8000 on fertiliser. The following year I spent none on fertiliser but £4000 on grass seed mixes instead, and I’ve since increased my store calf number from 30 to 50.
“I use a five-year rotation: planting barley in year one then grass and undersowing with oats in year two, then I get two years of silage and one of grazing. I test 30- 40 acres of soil a year - you start with the soil, because that’s what everything grows from.
“I don’t buy in any feed. I’ve got an abundance of grass this year and might even be able to sell some. And with the good quality bales the calves are eating less.”
Farm Profit Programme Advisor and livestock consultant Robert Gilchrist was on hand to give bespoke advice.