Donald Mcdonald, a sheep farmer from Thurso in Caithness, Scotland, is a strong believer in getting the details right and this, particularly, in northern Scotland can make or break a farming business.
“Generally, we can’t make hay here. We’re right on the coastline, and it’s just too risky to try and rely on hay making, recent summers have been notably wet and unpredictable. Grass growth doesn’t really kick in until after the longest day in June due to the angle of the sun this far north, so you have to be very aware of the timing of grass cutting to ensure you get the maximum out of your forage,” he explains. “Typically, we get one cut of silage, and that’s in mid-July. And, with so much reliance on one cut, I’m determined to make the best possible silage to feed my livestock. My profitability is dependent on how well I manage the forage.
“I look at every aspect of grassland management. It’s important to constantly learn and be open to changing your systems. I pan bust all the farm every year and that has made a massive difference to the drainage and the productivity of the grassland,” he adds. “I soil sample every field every three years, and add minerals accordingly, typically lime and potash with trace minerals of selenium, copper and cobalt. I only cut grass after midday to increase the sugar content, and have also experimented with types of wrap to see if that improves the fermentation process.
“I’ve tried different number of layers with different sheets, but this year one change has made an incredible difference. As a farmer, you understand you want to minimise the oxygen contamination to the bale. I am always looking at ways to improve, why would any farmer invest so much time and effort producing forage, and then not getting the storage right?
“When I was at AgriScot last year I saw Silostop’s oxygen barrier film. The science made sense and, although it costs about £1.30 more per bale over 480 bales applying 6 layers, I thought it was worth a try. For my interest, I also did some black plastic bales with 6 layers to compare. In all honestly the sheep tell you the results – they’re eating every last bit, and the smell is tremendous.
“The seal on the bale is so much more effective, and the colour, the weight, and the analysis all demonstrate how the reduction of oxygen ingression into the bale improves the quality of the silage. With improved forage, I will also need to feed less purchased feed, so overall the cost of production will be lower, despite increased wrap costs. I also hope to see improved health over the winter period, including reduced listeriosis cases due to the hygiene quality of the bales, and obviously much less waste - all of which needs to be considered when assessing the cost effectiveness,” he explains.
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