Raising standards in silage clamp management and improving the quantity and quality of forage resulting is an increasingly important business objective for Somerset dairy producer Mark Humphry.
With an extensive investment and herd expansion programme underway, getting the most out of forage resources is fundamental to his future business model, he says.
“We are always looking for new ideas, trying to the do the job better and make the work life balance for our staff better. Clamp management is something that is often taken for granted but there’s a big difference in doing the job properly and not.
“If you don’t cover the clamp properly in the first place and then through the winter, for example, all the work you have done in the last 12 months is wasted.
“Plus you’re going to end up with a clamp of second quality silage to feed that you then have to pay money out to balance back up to something that’s right for your cows or you have to accept second rate performance from them.”
Run as a business partnership with wife Belinda and son Matt, Bartletts and Southey Farm, Isle Brewers, a Duchy of Cornwall tenancy, now has 360 crossbred commercial milkers.
“We are currently producing 8300 litres/cow at 4.5% butterfat and 3.7% protein for a Wyke Farms cheese contract so producing lots of high quality grazing and silage is absolutely fundamental for us.
“Whilst 50 acres of wheat is grown for wholecrop and there’s 110 acres of maize grown currently, the bulk of the silage comes from around 320 acres of grassland reseeded with Horizon Seeds mixes at 5 -8 year intervals.
“Whereas before we would aim to cut around 20 acres/day, we now aim to pick the right weather window, get the contactor in and our 180 acres of first cut can be done in a day and a half.”
Improving the efficiency of clamp sheeting has also been a priority in recent years, he explains.
“We changed to the Silostop Orange sheet and Anti-UV system recently and this has proved a great move. We were originally very sceptical that a thin sheet would do the job and hold up to everyday use.
“But we’ve definitely seen reduced spoilage on the top and this not only reduces the worry that this could find its way into the cows, it also eliminates the time spent removing waste from the clamp which can be considerable.
“It’s much simpler to use too. The thin clingfilms are a nightmare on an outside clamp particularly on a windy day.
“In contrast, the Silsotop orange all-in-one film that we use now means when you have finished with your silage clamp in the evening, it’s a really easy job in terms of covering the clamp back up so you’re more tempted to do it than waiting until the next day.’
Covering a silage clamp used to be about the worst job you could do on the farm, Mark admits.
“I used to reckon it took us longer to cover a silage clamp properly than it did for us to put the silage in there, but that has all changed now.
“It takes less time to cover the clamp properly at silage making, management is much simpler during the winter feeding period and we get better, more consistent forage to feed to the cows as well.”