Silage additive benefits 'add up'

Grassland management and milk from forage have been the focus for Gethin Jones since joining his father and uncle on their Carmarthenshire based dairy unit.

Knowledge
Dairy
Forage
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Hitting the jackpot

A surprise win in a prize draw was the starting point of some important changes for the Jones family, who run a 110-cow herd, plus 100 followers, near Kidwelly in Carmarthenshire.

Initially, winning 10 pots of ForFarmers’ silage additive in a draw at their local livestock market didn’t feel like much of a scoop, admits Gethin Jones. “We didn’t use any additive at that point, so didn’t realise the value,” he says. “But it turned out to be a significant introduction.”

Gethin was completing his degree in agriculture at Trinity St David College and working part time on the unit, alongside his father Rheinallt and uncle Dyfrig. “We used the additive on our first-cut silage and were then able to compare it with the second cut,” says Gethin. “And the difference was incredible."

“The fermentation and preservation were much improved with the additive. We often have muggy winters here and we have a 14-metre-wide clamp face, which takes between five and seven days to work across, so there is a lot of ‘exposure’."

“Before using an additive we could feel it heating up significantly, particularly during mild winters. After introducing it we were amazed at how much cooler the clamp was and the reduction in spoilage.”

Increased intakes

Previously, high levels of ammonia were sometimes found in the silage. “The additive now helps us avoid secondary fermentation, silage is more palatable and intakes have increased."

From 2019 to 2022, average first-cut silage analysis has revealed 37.5% dry matter, 15.7% crude protein, 73.5% D Value, and an ME of 11.7, with a pH of 4.3. Ammonia levels have averaged 3.3%. “This shows the additive is doing its job – aiding fermentation and suppressing bacteria in the silage from respiring.”

So using silage additive is now a permanent fixture for the Jones family. “It has been a crucial element in helping us to increase milk from forage.”

Herd average yield is 8,500 litres, at 4.2% butterfat and 3.2% protein. “The main ethos of our herd is milk from forage – that is our number-one priority. Two years ago we were at 3,800 litres of milk from forage and now we are up to 4,500 litres.”

Gethin joined the business full time in 2022 and plans are now well underway to double the size of the family’s Holstein herd. They are in the process of installing a new 20:40 herringbone hybrid parlour, with Afimilk technology, and are installing additional cubicles in 2024.

Cow longevity

Longer term, they plan to move away from all-yearround calving to a split-block calving system, with a shift towards Friesian genetics also on the cards. “We think this will help us to improve cow longevity and increased bull-calf value.”

Moving to a multi-cut silage system has also been important. “We used to take first cut around May 20, but now it’s the first week in May,” says Gethin. This has been made possible by the family’s introduction of a re-seeding policy.

With advice from ForFarmers’ forage specialist Michelle Cross he uses a three- or four-year cutting ley mix of perennial ryegrasses and tetraploids varieties for re-seeds, and a two-year ley of a different mix for overseeding. “We haven’t yet used clover in our silage leys, but with fertiliser prices as high as they are we plan to do this in the future,” he adds.

Grass measuring and using the Agrinet app helps the family to plan grazing and informs reseeding plans. “The software’s predictions of annual tonnages are really useful to see how fields have performed.”

Fertiliser applications are closely monitored and increased prices meant these were under further scrutiny in 2022,” says Gethin. “The plan was to cut back by around 10% on applications after first cut, and 5% after second and third cuts. But because we needed to take a fourth cut this year the overall amount wasn’t reduced.”

They have taken fourth cuts previously to make some bales, but 2022 was the first time they clamped a fourth cut. “The summer drought meant we saw much lower yields on the silage ground. We bought in fodder beet to bulk out the milking-cow ration and hay for the dry stock.”

Liming has also become key to managing soil health, using bagged granular and bulk lime, in response to soil testing, which is carried out every three years. “Since we began liming we have maintained yields of 13tDM/ha on the grazing ground, despite cutting nitrogen fertiliser applications from 200kg/ha in 2021 to 160kg/ha in 2022.”

Grass silage

Clamp Management

The family is also paying more attention to clamp management. “As we fill the clamps, one of us rolls with a tractor throughout the day. We also use layers of film and black sheeting topped with green netting to protect the clamp from wildlife. And we’ve also invested in silage matting, instead of using old tyres, to weight the sheeting down. We no longer have water sitting on top of the clamp.”

Paying closer attention to details, from soil health and ley quality, through to cutting and clamping, has helped to increase the amount of milk produced from forage and will also be key to the dairy herd and business’ future expansion.

“Cost doesn’t matter when it comes to things like seed and additives because they are the foundation of everything else and an important investment,” adds Gethin. “It’s important to get the basics right.”

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