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With the prospect of a crisis in winter fodder affecting many farmers already, the Soil Association Scotland is inviting land managers to a practical event on Mull looking at the importance of silage: knowing what you have and making the best of it.
Sheep and arable farmer Duncan McEwen, of Arnprior Farm near Stirling, said: ‘Growing good silage is a huge cost benefit. With the silage we make now, we’re feeding the same amount of concentrates with 1,200 sheep as we were with 350, when we used to feed them hay.
‘There’s no secret to it: good grass seed mixes – we use a clover mix – wilting it properly, and we cut it every 35 to 40 days before it goes to head to get the highest energy and protein for the ewes.’
Store producer Steven Wylie of Swartland Farm in Orkney makes the right type of silage (lower protein), for his system, to avoid cows producing too-big calves. As an organic farmer, he avoids feed where he can, as it is expensive.
‘The cost of ploughing and reseeding for silage is offset against nitrogen fertiliser,’ he says. ‘The year before I went organic, I spent £8,000 on fertiliser. The following year I spent none on fertiliser but £4,000 on grass seed mixes instead, and I’ve since increased my store calf number from 30 to 50.
‘I use a five-year rotation: planting barley in year one then grass and undersowing with oats in year two, then I get two years of silage and one of grazing. I test 30 to 40 acres of soil a year – you start with the soil, because that’s what everything grows from.
‘I don’t buy in any feed. I’ve got an abundance of grass this year and might even be able to sell some. And with the good quality bales, the calves are eating less.’
Come and hear from silage expert, farm profit programme adviser and livestock consultant Robert Gilchrist. He will be available on Thursday November 29 from 10.30am to 3.30pm at Salen Hotel, Isle of Mull.
The event is free and includes lunch, but booking is essential. To book, call Lyn on 07899 791748.