Forage quality starts with a plain disc mower
When it comes to making silage for his 500-cow herd of pedigree Stavilands Holsteins, Wiltshire farmer Henry Spencer, of JD Spencer & Sons, is focused on achieving high-quality silage with an ME of 12.
“We aim for a consistent quality with each and every cut of grass we take,” says Henry, based at Manor Farm, Langley Burrell. “And it starts with a plain disc mower.”
The farm turned its back on conditioning several years ago, and for very good reasons.
“We grow two-year leys, so the crop is not tough to mow,” he says. “It takes a little longer to wilt than conditioned grass, but we’re now producing better forage.”
He says that leaving the grass to dry instead of beating and bruising stems also contributes to less contamination. And a plain mower also means a lower power requirement.
“We’re using smaller tractors and burning less fuel, which makes our high-quality forage that much cheaper to produce,” he adds.
The farm has recently added a Kubota DM3095 plain triple mower from local dealer John Day Engineering, as a replacement for one of two front/rear 6m combinations.
With a 9.5m working width, the Kubota triple boosts the farm’s mowing capability beyond 15m. Comprising two 3.6m rear mowers on a butterfly frame and a 3.2m front-mounted unit, the Kubota triple is powered by a 170hp Kubota M7172.
“We’ll go mowing with two 170hp tractors, and drop around 350 acres in a day, and just leave it to dry,” he says.
“We simply couldn’t run a 9.5m mower conditioner with a 170hp tractor, nor would it mow 200 acres/day.”
He says the next time the grass is moved is to rake up ahead of local contractor Chris Awdry’s arrival, who supplies the self-propelled forager and the clamp machinery. With mowing completed comfortably ahead of foraging, both mowing tractors can then go onto trailers, to help out.
And this straightforward approach has also bought the farm time to make the most of available labour.
“Conditioned grass can dry too quickly, and lead to inconsistent dry matter levels,” he says. “This way, we can spread the working window a little, and be more flexible with how we approach silage-making.”
The 2,500-acre family farming business cuts around 1,200 acres of grass leys each year, in three cuts. A further 200 acres is allocated to maize, and 800 acres of winter wheat provides a source of straw and grain for livestock consumption.
Any surplus material is sold.
“I do like the three-bladed discs,” he says. “They work really well in light crops, when there’s little resistance, and this leaves a tidy stubble to encourage rapid regrowth.”
He was a little cautious of the size of the two 3.6m rear units, but says the centrally-mounted rear beds do ride well and follow ground contours far better than expected.
“The outfit is very well-balanced,” says Henry. “And the front mower’s pull-type suspension is really effective on uneven surfaces.”
“A lot of the mowers I’ve looked at seem much less robust than their heavier mower-conditioner counterparts,” he says. “But these Kubota mowers are on frames that would suit a much heavier mo-co, so they should be tough.”
He says that taking a chance on two Kubota M7 tractors from John Day Engineering led him to consider Kubota for the farm’s mowers.
“So far, I’m not disappointed,” he says. “The tractors have been very impressive, and are backed up by a good warranty. So there’s no reason to think the implements would be inferior.”
“Machine performance is good, and the back-up we’ve had from our local dealer is also there in equal measure,” he adds. “And that means we can continue to produce the high-quality forage our cows require.”