Wholecrop boost for milk from forage
Addressing the challenges of conserving wholecrop cereals has lifted milk from forage on a coastal, Cumbrian farm.

Producing milk from forage is a key target for every dairy producer, and wholecrop cereals can play a significant role in this ambition. Starch levels potentially approaching 30% and high levels of structural fibre to aid rumen function both contribute to good animal performance from this relatively easy-to-grow forage.

But ensiling wholecrop cereals can present more of a challenge, with high dry matters and stemmy material potentially making the exclusion of air difficult to achieve. Getting it wrong can come at a high cost to animal health and performance, but following correct practice in clamping and preservation can assure the production of an energy-rich, high dry matter, high performance feed.

On Harrington Parks Farm near Workington in Cumbria, dairy producer, David Walker, produces 40% of his herd’s milk from forage. He believes high-quality wholecrop silage is essential in achieving this performance, but has learned the hard way how to produce consistent forage quality with reliability every year.

Farming 155 British Friesians yielding 7,500 kg at 4.75% fat and 3.50% protein, he has grown wholecrop barley for around 20 years. Unlike some alternatives, cereal crops tolerate the farm’s exposed location, while using spring barley offers further agronomic gains. These include the avoidance of bare soil and run-off during the worst of the weather, and averting the crop damage which often occurs in winter-sown crops on the farm’s coastal fields overlooking the Solway Firth.

Conservation challenges

However, despite the success of the crop itself, conserving wholecrop silage with reliable results eluded the team at Harrington Parks Farm for many years.

David says: “It’s a difficult job to compact wholecrop and eliminate air as it’s a high dry matter and stemmy forage. So, we’ve always used an additive as an insurance, but had never been able to find one that keeps it really stable. It always used to warm up over winter, and through summer we could not prevent it going mouldy.”

The final straw occurred in a particularly bad year when changes to herd health suggested a more serious problem.

“We noticed we were getting mastitis and swollen hocks, which was identified by our vet as caused by mycotoxins,” he says.

This was traced to the wholecrop silage which that year had acquired an “orange-coloured mould”.

“The product we’d put on the silage obviously didn’t work,” he says. “And we ended up paying the penalty with sick cows, lost milk, and buying an expensive mycotoxin binder.”

The search was then on to find a better way, and David took the decision to approach feed and forage preservation specialists, Kelvin Cave Ltd.

He discussed the concept of silage preservatives with northern area manager, Michael Carpenter, who pointed him to one specifically formulated for high dry matter forage.

Michael says: “I recommended Safesil Pro as this contains the necessary preservatives in the correct proportions to deal with the problems David was facing.”

These preservatives give exceptional aerobic stability and – as reported in the dairy industry’s most respected academic publication – are independently proven to “eliminate the activity of yeasts and guarantee prolonged storage stability” (Journal of Dairy Science, 94:824-831).

Safesil Pro preservative treated barley
Safesil-Pro preservative treated barley

“Yeasts and moulds grow in the presence of oxygen which is notoriously difficult to eliminate from wholecrop forages,” says Michael. “Amongst its other ingredients, Safesil Pro contains the correct levels of sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate, which are currently the only commonly used preservatives proven to eliminate yeast activity without compromising fermentation.

“This massively reduces those dry matter losses which silently drag down a farm’s financial performance,” he adds. “But it can also play a role in reducing the production of mycotoxins and the sort of health issues they can cause.” 

David Walker Safesil Pro silage preservative
David Walker

David used the product on his next crop of wholecrop and says the result was beyond his expectations.

“To be honest, I was surprised as, despite the promises, none of the additives had proved successful in the past and this came as such a contrast,”

“Now, our wholecrop is dry, consistent through the clamp, cold throughout the year and never gets bad patches.”

This has been supported by improved sheeting choices including high quality side sheets alongside a top sheet of O2 Barrier 2in1.

“This is the single sheet product which transforms into two on application,” explains Michael. “The bottom layer is a polyamide vacuum film, which is a true oxygen barrier, giving the product far better airtight qualities that conventional sheeting.” 

“We also find it’s much easier to apply and we’re confident it helps reduce wastage,” adds David.

Today his British Friesians are performing at their best, achieving over 3,000 litres from forage and increasing year on year. The icing on the cake has been second place for the breed in the northern region NMR Annual Production Report for combined fat plus protein.

As both a supplier and council member for First Milk, David says he’s particularly pleased that quality forage is supporting his milk price by helping to maintain high levels of milk solids. But also important is the fact that he’s cutting waste and increasing efficiency, which has improved the farm’s carbon credentials – a goal for David and his buyer.

He says he will continue using Safesil on his wholecrop barley, now for the seventh year, and also uses forage additives from Kelvin Cave on grass silage, and with great success on an ad hoc basis on a crop of wholecrop beans.

Part of David Walker's herd of British Friesians
Part of David Walker's herd of British Friesians

Harrington Parks Farm facts

• 250 acres (101 hectares) on West 
    Cumbrian coast

155 British Friesians producing
    7,500 litres at 4.75% fat and 3.50% 

• 3,000 litres of milk from forage

• 30 acres of wholecrop spring barley 
    conserved with Safesil Pro

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