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Henry Gent: 'Good leys make good silage, but we want to maximise milk from forage'

The dry weather has been a bonus. We will soon finish the last round, and, once that is gone, the cows will have nothing to eat until spring except winter forage.

The dry weather has been a bonus. We will soon finish the last round, and, once that is gone, the cows will have nothing to eat until spring except winter forage. Good leys make good silage, but we want to maximise milk from forage and we tend to look at providing a combination of forages.

 

We have given up maize. Our maize usually struggled to compete against weeds. If we looked after the crop by giving it first slot in the rotation after a ley, and by good timing with two to three passes with a comb harrow or inter-row hoe, we could average 24-30 tonnes/hectare (10-12t/acre), not really enough.

 

I have never tried fodder beet, but weed control is probably challenging, like maize, and I know a very good farmer who has given it up, never a good sign.

 

Any crop which used to be inter-row hoed and hand-hoed before the days of herbicides should be approached with caution by an organic farmer, but we have found a way of growing kale.

 

We sow spring barley for wholecrop silage, but at rather a low seed rate, about 50-55kg/acre, and then immediately sow (under-sow) the kale, at 2-3kg/acre.

 

The kale seedlings sit under the barley until the chopper takes off the barley (and weeds) in late July and then the kale, which is actually a kale/rape hybrid, re-grows and behold a relatively weed-free crop.

 

I like it so much I have grown about 22ha (55 acres) of it this year.

 

We have a fantastic crop on the ground which has previously had chicken houses, or a dung heap, or where we have pumped dirty water. The other 20ha (50 acres) is only about ankle high, unfortunately, but still useful.

 

The spring barley is a reasonably reliable source of high energy silage for us. It is lower yielding than maize at about 14-20t/ha (6-8t/acre) on this farm, but it provides a nurse crop for the kale, or for a re-seed.

 

Because the July silaging operation cuts off the heads of the lamb’s tongue and other weeds, we can grow the barley/kale combination in a rotation where weeds have been seen in previous years.

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