Sited in a coastal location, the silage pits on Marcross Farm are inevitably exposed. The process of sheeting and netting had always been difficult and wind damage was considered unavoidable on the Evans family’s dairy farm.
So, when Hopkin Evans stumbled across the innovative Silage Safe sheeting system, his interest was understandably aroused. He says: “I saw the system on YouTube and it looked perfect for our farm, so I talked to Tim [Frost, South Wales area manager] last autumn about using it for our maize.”
Farming at Llantwit Major, with land running to the clifftops and the Nash Point Lighthouse on the South Wales coast, he says he’d been looking for some time for a better way than tyres and gravel bags to weigh his silage clamps down.
So, when he saw the ratchet mechanism for ultra-secure closure and how easy it looked to instal, he decided to order the Silage Safe system for his 500-tonne clamp of maize. This was despite being unable to view the product on any other farm during the 2020 Covid-19 lockdown.
When all the maize was harvested on a Friday night last October, it was just the family left on site for the job of sheeting and covering the clamp. But Mr Evans and his parents, Tony and Sharon, and wife, Kathryn, made short work of the process.
Using O2 Barrier 2in1 under the netting, this ensured the clamp was impermeable to air, with its novel single layer application which separates into two on the clamp. On top of this went the Silage Safe netting, which is anchored into place inside the clamp during the filling process, and just needed closing and tightening.
“Covering the clamp has always been such a physical operation before but this was really easy,” he says. “We have never done it with just the family before and the whole process took well under two hours.”
However, he says the benefits really came into their own at the time of feed-out.
“The Silage Safe sheeting comes in two metre widths, so removing one width takes 10 to 15 minutes once a week,” he says. “This compares with around 30-45 minutes with the previous type of netting which had to be folded back each week.”
Each section is then cleaned, rolled and stored in a purpose-made rack for use the following year.
“Our herdsman, Gareth Burgess, is very impressed,” he says. “It’s his time that’s saved most of all, which gives us more time for the job of actually managing the cows rather than lugging sheets and getting wet, and when two clamps are open, the time soon adds up.”
Also observing that if the shear grab ever damages conventional netting as silage is removed, it can create a hole right through the folded roll.
“No one has done this yet with the new system, but if they do nibble it with the shear grab, it will be just that two-metre section damaged,” he says.
A further benefit he has found is that the Silage Safe netting hasn’t yet been damaged by birds.
“Any weakness in the old netting would always be targeted by seagulls, which would eat through the plastic sheeting and into the silage,” he says. “With Silage Safe, we find the birds don’t even land. I don’t know why but the fact that there’s no weakness must be a factor and perhaps they don’t like walking on the shiny surface.”
Feeding the maize silage over the winter to the 9,000 litre, 180-head herd, Mr Evans says he is confident the system has saved its quality. He says he has used the preservative, Safesil for every one of his forages for many years, but was unable to do so on this maize.
“We haven’t made maize silage for several years but started again last year,” he says. “We used a different contractor who unfortunately was unable to use Safesil in his low volume applicator, so I used a competitor’s additive instead.
“I have regretted doing this ever since as Continued from page 19 although the maize looks perfect when opened, it heats up quickly at the open face,” he says. “It’s definitely a compromise I shouldn’t have made, and we won’t be doing it again.
“However, I think the Silage Safe system saved the quality of the maize in this clamp as it looked so good when it was opened.”
Tim Frost corroborates this observation and says: “Because the maize was kept in anaerobic conditions, spoilage by yeasts and moulds would have been prevented during storage. But opening the clamp would inevitably result in the moulds and yeasts that were harvested with the crop, bursting into life and causing spoilage on exposure to air.
“If Hopkin had used Safesil, as was his normal practice, this would have achieved stability at the clamp face and prevented any heating and spoilage.”
Next year, Mr Evans says he will insist on using Safesil on all of his forages, and for the future he plans to add more of the new covering systems to the other clamps on the farm.
He says: “I did deliberate hard before buying the Silage Safe because it’s about twice the price of standard netting and gravel bags, but I have no doubt we did the right thing.
“I can see this product easily lasting 10 years but I’m confident it will return its investment in two to three years. And if you look at the value of the silage underneath it that far surpasses anything you put on top.
“The greatest damage caused on our farm is when anything flaps in the wind, but this covering just stays in shape and in place – it doesn’t move at all.
“We sell our milk to Arla and feel it offers a further benefit,” he says. “Carbon footprint is very important and this definitely helps us make better quality forage and cut losses, and it is now one of our tools for carbon efficiency.
“As our existing nets reach the end of their lives we will buy Silage Safe for all four of our grass silage clamps,” he says. “I have absolutely no doubt it will be worth it for the time and quality saved.”
Marcross Farm facts
- 180 Holstein Friessians on 350-acre family-run farm
- 9,000 litres through three GEA robots
- All silage usually preserved with Safesil
- Innovative clamp covering Silage safe, introduced
- Plans to use Silage Safe on the farms five clamps