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Move to make own silage leads to big savings on Dumfries farm

A joint DairyCo and Eblex workshop saw the industry come together to talk silage, with farmer experiences being the highlight of the day. Louise Hartley reports from Coventry.

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BY taking control of their own silage making, the team at Coopon Carse Farm, Newton Stewart, owned by Wijnand Pon, Netherlands has saved a tonne of concentrate per cow.


In 2009, Alex Robertson, farm manager of 13 years, decided to stop using contractors and in 2010 ensiled the farm’s grass using used forage wagons.


Although he had a good relationship with his contractor, the ability to cut grass when it was ready, utilise labour to a greater extent and reduce compaction were the deal clinchers for Mr Robertson.

Alex Robinson

 He told the workshop: "We would previously be waiting on grass to be ready and were always at the mercy of the weather. With the change in system, we can make decisions quickly, cutting grass as it becomes ready and when it is required.


“Situated on heavy clay soils and with 1,450mm to 1,800mm rainfall per year, we can also cut when weather permits.”


Another economic advantage has been greater utilisation of farm staff. Apart from wholecrop harvesting, all fieldwork is carried out by the six full-time and four part-time employees.  


The team operates a four-cut system with two forage wagons and silage ground is sown with a medium-to-late perennial variety, giving them a bigger cutting window as grass is not all heading at the same time.


Triple mowers without conditioners have replaced the previous front and rear mower conditioners. “We find the triple mowers use less fuel, are easier to drive and faster.


"We can wait until later in the day to start mowing and still cut the same amount of acres.


“Ideally, we cut on day one, ted on day two and start to lift silage on day three.”

Part 2

When clamping, a 13.5-tonne loading shovel is used to buckrake and roll. With 60t of grass coming into the pit per hour, the shovel provides a 25 per cent weight bear on silage for effective compaction.


“As soon as another tractor becomes available, it is also put on the pit to roll too.


“We try to spread grass in layers no more than 12cm deep and I make sure those driving on the clamp keep the sides high and the middle low – if the sides are compacted well, the middle will look after itself.”


Milking cows are split into four management groups and fed a total mixed ration, with a separate ration for dry cows.


In 2011, Mr Robertson also started zero grazing. During the year, he fed 25kg of fresh grass per head per day to the herd for 120 days and achieved a considerable concentrate saving.


“With feed prices high, such as soya and rape, we wanted to utilise home-grown protein,” he said.

From 2010 (where half the figures were impacted by 2009’s silage) to 2011, concentrate usage reduced from 4.1 to 3.1t per cow, totalling a £100,000 saving across the whole herd.


Last year, milkers were given 35kg fresh grass per cow per day for 178 days during the zero grazing period, with some fields taking seven cuts of grass. The forage wagons cut grass in fields from 50 metres to three miles from the steading.


This resulted in a concentrate reduction worth nearly £90,000 (see table), with yields remaining firm at 30.5kg milk sold per cow per day at 3.84 per cent butterfat and 3.28 per cent protein.


Part 4

Forage wagons have been upgraded, with one including a weigh cell and a belt on the back so grass can be fed straight to cows.


“Previously, we were bringing in grass and feeding it out through the feeder wagon. Although this worked well, grass was being handled twice causing it more damage than necessary. We will now feed the TMR first and put fresh grass on top using the feeder wagon, reducing silage and concentrate in the TMR to match the cows’ requirements as we progress through the year,” said Mr Robertson.


“The weigh cells will allow us to bring in exactly the right amount of grass required, instead of guessing and having to feed any leftovers to the dry group or youngstock.


“We can always cut more grass if we are running out by tea time. It is all about knowing the system and learning how to manage grass."

Coopon Carse

  • 268 hectares (660 acres) with further 24ha (60 acres) rented
  • 136ha (335 acres) cut for grass silage, including grass for zero grazing
  • 40ha (100 acres) winter wheat, 73ha (180 acres) rough grazing and 4ha (10 acres) trees
  • 530 cows milked three times per day and470 youngstock
  • Herd production of 5.28m kg last year and predicted 5.5m litres  this year
  • About 30 young bulls sold annually
  • Six full-time staff and four part-time
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