Jennifer MacKenzie is an agricultural photo journalist with almost 30 year's experience. Operating from her base in Cumbria, Jennifer undertakes mainly industry-related freelance writing and photography.

Dairy farmer capitalises on forage crops

Dairy farmer Andrew Addison capitalises on the forage crops he grows at Spittals Farm, Low Moor, Penrith.

Prince Charles tours the cutting plant
Andrew Addison and his cows .

Split by the busy A66 trunk road, Spittals is principally dry, sandy loam with only 30 inches of rainfall a year and Andrew and his team use crops grown on the less accessible land to complement the use of grazed grass and silage year-round.

The system has evolved from a mixed farm to an expanding dairy farm with the aim of running 200 cows yelding up to 9,000 litres at 4.2 per cent butterfat and 3.3 per cent protein in band A from as much home-grown forage as possible.

Mr Addison and his wife Janet’s attention to detail earned them the title of national joint runners-up in the annual BGS Grassland Management Competition.

The 188 acres with good access to the farm steading is used for paddock grazing the cows during the summer with further away fields cut for silage or used to grow winter barley for seed with straw used for bedding.

A further 129 acres which is unsuitable for cow grazing because of the need to cross the A66 is down to arable crops which are made into wholecrop silage – in 2005 the cropping was 51 acres of winter wheat Einstein, 57 acres of triticale variety Fidalio and 16 acres of Netouch peas, mainly grown as a break crop. Any surplus wheat is sold off farm.

The farm, which totals 401 acres, includes ground three and six miles away from the steading which are used to make hay, dry cow grazing and grazing for followers.

“We calve between January and October and we try to have as many cows in milk through the high priced milk period as possible with the main block being summer calving with the emphasis on producing weight of fat and protein,” said Andrew Addison.

“Because our land droughts quickly we can’t rely on grass in the peak summer months, so we have adopted this storage feeding system using home-grown forage crops,” he added.

Grass silage, wholecrop wheat and triticale and peas are ensiled in the same clamp.
Grass silage, wholecrop wheat and triticale and peas are ensiled in the same clamp.

Two cuts of grass silage along with the wholecrop wheat and triticale and peas are ensiled in the same clamp.

Second cut silage is fed first and there is access to the wholecrop throughout the year.

Typical mid winter rations are based on 19kg silage (wet basis) 12kg wholecrop wheat and triticale, 3kg of peas, 3.5kg of sugar and starch mix (KW Formula 1), 2kg of soya and 1kg each of rape and maize distillers meal which is fed through a feeder wagon to the cows as one group.

Out of parlour feeders are used to top up the high yielders benefiting cows in early lactation and helping prevent later lactation milkers becoming too fat pre-calving. The 19 per cent protein concentrate brings concentrate use to 0.3kg a litre across the herd which currently averages 8,400 litres a cow.

During the summer, grazed grass at up to 45kg replaces the grass silage element of the diet with the wholecrop balancing the ration depending on grass quality and quantity at up to 10kg a day.

The wholecrop adds fibre to the diet, particularly at turn-out onto lush grass. The diet is further supplemented with citrus pulp or beef pulp to maintain milk quality.

To make economies on the grass silage system, only two cuts of silage were made during 2005 compared with the usual three cuts.

First cut, which was traditionally made on or around May 14 has now been put back to May 20. Second cut, which used to follow on after five weeks, is now taken up to seven weeks later.

“Now we’re probably saving around £800 a year by not making the third cut which, although it was reasonable quality, was variable in quantity and by cutting the first two crops later we are getting bigger crops and a comparable tonnage,” said Andrew Addison.

Contractors are used for all silage work with the exception of trailer leading and rolling which Andrew undertakes himself to seal the clamp well.

The grass is generally wilted for up to two days before ensiling. Previous year’s sheeting is used on the clamp sides and new sheets are placed directly on top of the silage with last year’s sheets creating a double top layer.

First cut, which is made off up to 99 acres, is usually made within one day to prevent the crop standing in the clamp unsheeted.

The 2005 first cut crop analysed at 27.9DM, 15.3 crude protein, 11.2 ME and 70.1 D value with second cut at a high 40.8 DM, 14.6 CP, 11.2 ME and 72.3 D value. An inoculant is used on all the silage crops.

Soil is sampled every three to five years with a view to applying the correct nutrients and fertiliser and identifying any mineral deficiencies.

Over-wintered sheep have the run of the farm’s grassland from early November until early January which gives plenty of time for the ground to recover for early grass growth.

Slurry is applied generally up to early March after which it is spread on stubble or set aside.

All silage ground receives 20.3.13 with sulphur and calcium, applied mid March depending on ground conditions and grazing ground is spread with nitrogen fertiliser on around March 20, followed by KNitro.

As well as working to a manure management plan, the farm is in the Entry Level Stewardship Scheme with work including replacing and laying hedges as well as restoring ponds and hay meadows.

The Addisons have joined LEAF as a way of enhancing the long term viability of the farm – they have also recently opened a conference barn in a converted stable.

Turn-out varies because of the weather – the farm lies at 420 ft above sea level and can be exposed.

The re-seed policy is every seven to 10 years for grazing ground and every five to seven years for silage cropping. Tetraploids are favoured with a move towards high sugar varieties.

Newer varieties of clover are also introduced to the sward after the grass is established. Seed mixtures are tailored to soil type and use.

Cow comfort was improved for the herd with new cubicles as well as investments in the parlour.

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