This month Roger Evans tells us about his well-honed tactics for successful silage making, and how he was eventually thwarted in his burning desire to drive the big rowing up rake.
By the time you read this the decision on when to do your first silage cut will have faded to be a distant memory, but it is probably one of the biggest decisions of the year.
The timing of that first cut sets the timing for subsequent cuts and you can inadvertently get it right or you can get it wrong. At one time the state of grass growth was the main criteria, with concentration on ear emergence and stuff like that, but now I find in conversations with fellow dairy farmers they are all sending grass samples off daily as they monitor sugar and nitrogen levels.
It’s all getting quite sophisticated, which is another word for complicated. And all that information disregards the main issue – the weather. We cut on May 14, not early and not late. May was cold and the day before we cut we had a touch of frost. We don’t send grass samples away and, to be honest, stage of growth is a bit of a look over the gate. We have long leys and short leys at different locations, so it’s a bit of a compromise between the volume of crop and the weather.
One of our main criteria is to try to get the contractor first, because once he sets off on his seasonal round he might not get back to our area for a week or 10 days, and because everyone is sending these grass samples off, everybody wants him at the same time. And if there is some wet weather, every day he loses is an extra day gone until he comes back and so it goes on.
As I said at the start, get the first cut wrong and your second cut goes to head too quickly and there won’t be much of a crop. So to be equally honest, if you do get it all right, you need to disregard all the science and admit you were lucky.
So if getting the contractor first is our main criterion, the second one is to try and time the operation to coincide with when the fish and chip shop is closed. I spent more money last year on fish and chips for late night silage gangs than I did on additive.
Right, milk prices have started to slide, so what do you do about it? Well if we continue today’s theme of honesty there’s not a lot you can do. If dairy companies had not been busy recruiting earlier in the year, I think prices would have weakened a bit at a time right from the start of the New Year as world markets themselves weakened. But they didn’t, so now milk buyers will seek to get some of that money back, the money which they ‘overpaid’.
So if markets hold or strengthen we will inevitably see the slow recovery on farm we liked a bit of naughtiness but I don’t like the naughtiness and sleight of hand I see going on with today’s league tables. Some producers are getting nowhere near the headline price published in these tables. I could name and shame but I’m just a simple dairy farmer, and my family can’t afford me taking the risk of upsetting someone and ending up in court. So where are the professional commentators in all this? Where are the unions?
Back here on the farm I am going to try to match the milk price drop with cost savings. It’s not going to be that easy. The price of diesel will be the price of diesel, the same for fertiliser and corn, and you can only chip away at the price by buying as wisely as you can.
One thing we have done is take over the mowing and raking of our silage ground from the contractor. We have got rid of two older tractors and bought a new one and a slightly better one than we had before. Don’t think I have explained that very well – we used to have four tractors and now have two plus the scraper. The new tractor was fairly obviously ear marked for the mower and the rake was to go on No2, which I consider mine. It’s a 30ft rake and I was really looking forward to using it, which just shows what a sad life I have.
It was here a month before we used it and I used to examine it, pretending I was interested in its design. What I was really doing was working out how the hell to get it from transport position to working. ‘They’ all watched me and smiled indulgently. But as the day neared there was much talk about trees and electric poles and insurance and resulting hold ups, and where would we get spares and how much gas was there left in the blow torch and someone had better remember to get some welding rods.
I’m not as dull as I look, fortunately, and I worked out they didn’t want me to use the rake. And I didn’t, because come raking day I had to go to South Wales and by the time I got back the blighters had done it all. They did more than 100 acres the first day and only had an hour left to finish.
On top of that the grandson was scraping so I went to sulk on the lawn mower, and that broke on my second circuit. They all knew better than to actually say it was a good job I wasn’t driving anything bigger!