Whole-Crop Beans for Roughage and Protein

Whole-cropping beans was not the natural choice for Northumberland farmer, Edward Carins from Broom Hall in Black Callerton, north west of Newcastle. As a livestock producer, arable farmer and farm contractor – operating in partnership with his brother, Ridley – he had all the equipment needed to harvest, dry and store the beans and hadn’t given whole-cropping a thought.

“Combined beans worked well in our crop rotation and at its simplest, we were feeding our beef a ration of dried or Propcorn NC-treated beans, crimped wheat and bread – with straw in racks for the long fibre,” he says.

With 160 suckler cows on the 1,200 acre grass and arable farm and all of their progeny taken through to finishing, this largely home-grown ration was both high quality and cost-effective.

“There was no real reason to change as the cattle did well on it, but I never liked wasting the bean straw,” says Edward. “I knew it would make good roughage for feeding the cattle although I didn’t like the idea of having to bring someone else in to do the job.”

He eventually took the plunge around five years ago, having spoken to Kelvin Cave Ltd’s northern manager, Michael Carpenter about whole-crop preservation, and having ‘seen other people’s results’.

“Even paying someone else to do it, we found it to be very beneficial,” he says. “In just a day’s work the whole job was done and we had no waste and now have a high protein ingredient with plenty of scratch factor in the diet.”

Being meticulous about the whole-cropping process, he says he rolls in thin layers as the crop comes in; does not over-fill the pit and uses O2 Barrier 2in1 as both side sheets and over the clamp.

The highest spec silage preservative, Safesil, is chosen for its track record in all situations, since it can be difficult to create the anaerobic conditions required for good whole-crop preservation.

“Safesil is the most reliable product to deal with whole-crop as it gives unrivalled aerobic stability,” says Michael Carpenter. “Because of the high dry matter of the crop and its stemmy nature it can be difficult to achieve adequate compaction.

“Failure to exclude air makes the environment an ideal breeding ground for yeasts and moulds so by choosing Safesil – which contains human food-grade preservatives – we know these spoilage organisms will actually be killed,” he adds.

Edward says: “We are very pleased with the results from both the small clamp which we opened early and the main clamp which we didn’t open for four weeks.” 

Now feeding a ration comprising whole-crop beans, crimped wheat and bread – which is weighed by the loader tractor and mixed on a concrete pad – Edward says the beans and wheat complement each other very well.

“We particularly like harvesting beans as whole-crop as we can take them earlier – probably in late September – rather than mid-October if we were combining,” he says. “This means we can get on the ground sooner with the winter wheat which we find does very well when following beans.”

However, Edward says he is always flexible about how he will harvest and store his beans and has benefited from the versatility they bring.

“Nothing on this farm is set in stone – we will do whatever suits the year,” he says.

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