Forage wagons could offer a cost-effective solution for those farmers with limited labour, who are keen to take silage-making in-house.
Technological advances mean forage wagons are no longer the ‘clatter wagons’ of the past, and could help some farmers take more control of their silage-making and build flexibility into their systems.
A forage wagon combines the task of cutting and collecting mowed grass into one pass, thus reducing machinery and labour requirements – specifically in carting silage from the field to the clamp.
James Duggleby, marketing and project manager for Krone, says the investment in a forage wagon and subsequent silage-making kit costs roughly a fifth of the cost of a self-propelled forage harvesting set-up. Consequently it provides a cost-effective solution for DIY silagemaking.
He says: “It also gives farmers some versatility with grass. It gives them the option of zero grazing and making silage themselves. Plus, with an in-house operation, they can decide when to do each field.”
Mr Duggleby believes a DIY silage-making operation with a forage wagon provides farmers with scope to harvest grass in blocks, rather than having to wait to cut the whole silage area.
This is also helpful on grazing systems, enabling fields which have got ahead of cows to be cut and clamped. By attaching a mower to the front of the tractor towing the forage wagon, zero grazing also becomes an option.
In addition, technological developments mean modern-day forage wagons are more reliable and more efficient than in the past. For example, Mr Duggleby says it is now possible to install a weighing system, linked to a tablet, which can be used to log the tonnage of fresh weight going into the clamp. GPS also enables individual field yields to be monitored. Most wagons also have an auto-fill system.
He says: “There’s been investment in technology. They are now on a rotor system, rather than a feeder rake system, which is more suited to the UK’s wetter grasses.”
A forage wagon has built flexibility into the system at Eling Farm, Berkshire, enabling cows to be zero grazed when grazed grass growth dips and pockets of silage ground to be cut when desired.
For Brian Goodenough, his Krone MX 350 GL forage wagon is an essential part of his ‘dry weather management plan’, which is put into action most summers when the farm typically burns-off in July.
“If it looks like they’ll be a trend for low grass growth and there’s a chance we’ll run out [of grazed grass] in five weeks, we’ll zero graze,” says Mr Goodenough, who tracks growth rates on the 175-hectare (432-acre) grazing platform, every week throughout summer using a grass plate meter.
This strategy has proved vital as the system has become more grazing intensive and stocking rates have increased to 2.7 cows/ ha (1.1 cows/acre) on the grazing platform. With the aim to increase yields from 3,300 litres to 4,000 litres next year at current constituent levels, good grassland management, regular reseeding and cutting grass at the optimum time is viewed as essential.
Mr Goodenough says zero grazing maximises grass utilisation on the system, by allowing fresh grass to be carted to cows from a separate 280-hectare (692-acre) silage block, which is located on the opposite side to the M4 motorway. The zero grazing process takes one man about an hour from cut to feed-out.
Mr Goodenough believes feeding fresh grass to the 420-cow herd in such a way is the quickest, cheapest and most efficient use of farm labour and machinery, when compared to making more silage.
He says: “I’d only put it right in the clamp, open it up and feed it….You might as well take it straight to the cow. Grazed grass is the cheapest way to feed cows and cutting and taking zero grazed grass to the cow is the next cheapest way to feed cows.”
With the 2018 summer even more challenging than usual, Mr Goodenough believes the value of zero grazing has been even more apparent. By having the machinery in place, the team were able to ‘dive in to different crops’, when grass was running out and zero graze peas, barley, triticale and oats, which had been undersown with Italian ryegrass, after kale. Typically grass will be zero grazed for about three weeks when conditions are dry, but in 2018 this was extended to 10 weeks using different crops.
Generally, the amount of grass which will be silaged and zero grazed will be varied, depending on the season. When zero grazing, the team will use a 200hp tractor and Krone front mower on the forage wagon. For silaging, a Krone front and back mower will be used on a 130hp tractor, alongside the forage wagon.
Mr Goodenough believes purchasing the wagon and taking silage-making in-house, has not only reduced costs, but also built in flexibility into the silage-making operation. This allows smaller blocks of 16-32 hectares (40-80 acres) to be cut when they are ready, rather than waiting for the contractor to cut everything. He says the machinery also limits soil damage. He adds: “We’re creating less compaction and taking our cuts at the right time and getting better quality grass.”
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