With the risk of sounding like a complete smart arse, I can safely say that taking first cut a fortnight has been a good decision. While some people would say there is a large element of luck involved I prefer to think it as a complex decision based on the calculation of multiple converging criteria of varying quantities. Or yes, luck.
Which ever way you choose to look at it, things have gone pretty well since first cut. The job was done, sheeted and completed in 24 hours and the rain came straight after. It wasn’t a torrential downpour but measly trickle to start with. The forecast wasn’t predicting much but it just kept on falling.
The first showers brought 6mm of rain which was enough to revive the ailing pastures. Then a few days later as we applied cow slurry and fertiliser to the silage ground, more steady showers arrived. The rain carried on and off for the best part of a week and completely invigorated the pastures across the farm.
The 37 mm of rain that has recently fallen will keep the farm going for around a fortnight or so before more is needed.. The milking cows need around 30 tonne of fresh grass a day to satisfy their appetite – and then we need to grow winter forage too. Without rain the whole operation is stuffed.
This remarkable transformation shows just how critical summer rain is to our grassland operation. The two photos below provide a stark example of what happens with or without rain.
A grazing paddock on May 7th
And the same paddock on May 17th
I can’t remember starting silaging so early before but then I can’t remember such a dry April and May either. The decision over when to go is usually based on the stage of grass growth and the volume of grass in the field. It’s a balance between quantity and quality. The longer you leave it, the bigger the crop and the lower the quality, as the leaf turns to stem and the grass goes to seed.
In a perfect world, silage would be taken early in May every year but that would mean small crops of grass and having to cut four or five times through the Summer to harvest enough grass for Winter feed – which sounds fine in theory. In practise it’s not that easy to find that much decent weather to harvest in; and then Drenewydd is a heavy farm. Growth is slow early in the season and conditions can be sticky as the clay dries out.
But thats the theory for a normal season, whatever that is. This year has been dry and cool with a sharp easterly wind drying the ground out for much of the Spring. When I walked the grass ten days ago I didn’t take a plate meter with me, I took a spade. It wasn’t a case of measuring the grass but looking for moisture. Was there enough moisture left in the ground for anymore growth. Out of the seven fields I dug holes in, there were only two with any meaning amount of dampness left in the clay. It wasn’t bone dry but I couldn’t get a handful of clay to stick together in my hand in all but two paddocks.
The weather forecast didn’t give much hope of any change either with another week of sunshine and easterly winds predicted. That was on the 9th of May at least a fortnight before we’d normally start which still seemed to be way too soon for me.
But then in the back of my mind was the weather. I’ve said this many times and I’ll continue to do so because it still stands true: The weather has a nasty habit of evening itself out. Long dry spells are inevitably followed by wet ones and visa versa. If I didn’t decide to silage and it did start to rain then Murphy’s law dictates that it will never stop.
I made this mistake three years ago with first cut. We had completed the silaging at the farm and had another 80 acres to do the other side of town on the hill. There wasn’t much of a crop there at the time as it was a later ground.
“Don’t worry Huw, We’ll leave it until Monday” I foolishly told the contractor.
We did start it on a Monday as I remember but it wasn’t the one I was banking on. it was three weeks later as the rain came in. When we eventually got round to it the crops were huge, the ground was wet and the quality was poor. It filled the silage clamp up nicely but the cows spent the next Winter chewing their way through it, milking like mice.
Bearing all that in mind and the old saying “make hay when the sunshines” we started foraging last Wednesday lunchtime and were done in a day.
Some of the crops were okay but most fields were more like a second cut.
Thankfully, there is still a fair amount of silage left from last year so the deficit will not be too severe. The grass itself smelt very sweet and should make wonderful silage for the Winter.
The harvest went smoothly enough with only a short breakdown involving the metal detector and the whole job was wrapped up by Thursday afternoon.
And then the next day it rained. Perfect timing or a nasty case of premature foraging? Time will tell.
This cow is a Jersey cross Holstein. So her mother was a Holstein and father a Jersey.
Jerseys are great grass grazers and will strip a field bare unlike their black and white cousins who are more picky eaters. How they manage to graze the ground so hard I am unsure of but could it be something to do with this?
If you look carefully you can see the cows tongue sweeping the grass as she eats. I can only assume it helps her rip the grass up but Ive never really noticed if all the cows do it or just the Jersey cross breds. If anyone out there knows the answer then please send it in to email@example.com and I’ll publish your explanation.