Good health, fertility and longevity in the suckler herd and high growth rates in youngstock are attributed to high quality silage with no contamination on a Devon farm.
Good health, fertility and longevity in the suckler herd and high growth rates in youngstock are attributed to high quality silage with no contamination on a Devon farm.

For Devon beef producer, Matt Widdicombe (pictured above), high quality silage is the lifeblood of his business. It’s made with strict adherence to good practice – two vehicles for compaction, high grade side sheeting, oxygen impermeable dual top sheeting and top-of the-range preservative, Safesil Pro.

Farming 100 acres with his father, John, at Cutwellcombe Farm near South Brent, he admits he would love to spend less on making his silage, but has learnt from experience that it’s not worth the risk.

“Yes, I have thought about cutting the inputs but that’s where it ends,” he says. “Our silage is too important to our business and I’ve seen what happens when it’s not done properly.”

Mr Widdicombe’s experience comes not only from his own farm – formerly a dairy farm and now comprising a suckler herd and youngstock, totalling around 80 head, and a small flock of sheep – but also from his work as a farm contractor.

Working for M & J Wakeham & Son, who also bring in the silage at Cutwellcombe Farm, he travels widely across the south Devon region.

“I go to a lot of farms when I’m doing the contracting work and can see where other additives have been used, and it’s not to the same standard as Safesil,” he says.

But Mr Widdicombe is the first to admit his own silage was not always of the highest quality, which lies behind his original approach to Kelvin Cave.

He says: “We were already using a Kelvin Cave product for crimping our winter barley and getting on very well with it.

“The additive we use, CrimpSafe 300, is excellent for keeping the grain, and the cattle stay healthy and achieve good growth rates on the crimp.”

So, when he decided to address the waste he was getting in his grass silage clamp, it was a natural choice to go back to the company.

“I saw Ian Hall (Kelvin Cave’s south west area manager) at the Royal Cornwall Show and explained we were losing forage at the corners and some on top of the clamp. Ian said he could cure the problem, and to be fair to him, that’s exactly what he’s done,” he says.

“He introduced us to Safesil Pro, and we also upgraded our side-sheeting and changed the top sheeting to O2 Barrier 2in1,” he says.

“Yes, they absolutely make a difference,” he says. “There’s no spoilage at the top and the side sheets are a really good quality and supple and thick.”

“The transparency of the side sheets also helps tractor operators on the clamp to see its edges clearly,” adds Mr Hall. “And they don’t billow out from the walls in the way black sheeting can do when it’s hot.”

But the icing on the cake was the Safesil Pro, which can be relied upon to give long-term stability to ensiled forage.

Mr Hall explains: “The Safesil range of products work quite differently from others on the market as it’s made with high-grade preservatives. Its ingredients are actually used in human food, because they stop the action of yeasts  and moulds as well as harmful bacteria.

“Many other additives simply encourage the right type of fermentation through the addition of bacteria, but Safesil rapidly stabilises the silage by knocking out the harmful bugs and acting as a preservative.

“This has been demonstrated to be a far more consistent and effective approach than using a bacterial inoculant where results from year to year can be variable,” he says.

Mr Widdicombe concurs and says the silage he’s made since introducing Safesil in 2016 has never been so consistently good.

Matt Widdicombe says his silage has never before been so consistently good.
Matt Widdicombe says his silage has never before been so consistently good.

“I go to a lot of farms when I’m contracting and can see where other additives have been used it’s not to the same standard as Safesil.” 

Matt Widdicombe

“Other companies have tried to tell me their product will do the same, but I know from my experience that’s not the case,” he says.

This year’s analysis demonstrates his point, with a D value of 74.7%, metabolisable energy of 12.0MJ/kg DM, crude protein of 15.6% and dry matter of 31.7%, from a first cut taken on 17 May. Bale silage made once the clamp is full is also preserved with Safesil Pro, with equally consistent results.

More to the point, the stock are achieving exceptional performance, according to Mr Widdicombe.

“The youngstock are doing really well on the silage and crimp, and we’re recording growth rates of 1.8-2kg/day in the steers over the winter,” he says. “We find we can feed the Angus cross steers as much as we like, but we keep the heifers separately so they don’t run to fat.”

Steers are growing at 1.8-2kg/day on silage and crimp.
Steers are growing at 1.8-2kg/day on silage and crimp.

The suckler cows – which are mostly Blue Greys (a recognised breed based on Shorthorn and Galloway), which are served to an Angus bull, are also said to be looking at their best.

“I’m really pleased with their health and fertility, with a calving interval of under 370 days and many senior cows in the herd on their 10th or 11th calf.

“That kind of speaks volumes as far as I’m concerned, and you really couldn’t ask for a better backup than I get from Ian!” he says.

The suckler herd’s health and fertility has benefited from high quality forage.
The suckler herd’s health and fertility has benefited from high quality forage.

Cutwellcombe Farm facts

  • Family-run beef and sheep farm of 100 acres
  • Mostly Blue Grey breed plus Angus, Simmental and South Devon
  • Use Safesil Pro on silage and CrimpSafe 300 on winter barley
  • Also operate sandblasting and biomass businesses
  • Undertake contracting work for local company

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