How one north-west family made decent silage during the ‘worst summer in a generation’

The headlines from the north-west last summer were far from good for grassland farmers – yet good silage was still made on the Killen family farm near Newbuildings, Co. Derry.

With pleasing analysis readings, silage made on the farm in 2017 proved equally impressive when it came to livestock performance.

Killen’s silage analysis results:
  • 30 DM;
  • ME 11.5;
  • Protein 13.5;
  • pH 4.

“Despite being ensilaged during the worst summer weather in a generation, far worse than in other parts of Ulster, last year’s silage is feeding well,” said Stuart Killen.

“Intake and yield from our dairy cows have improved and in the beef unit daily live weight gain has again been heartening.”

Image Source: Lorraine Kirk Photography

Stuart and his brothers Geoffrey, Richard and Graeme farm with their father Ronnie as R Killen and Sons in the fertile Foyle Valley a few miles upstream from Derry city.

Aside from its growing dairy, beef and sheep enterprises, the family has one of the most sophisticated and progressive farm contracting businesses in the province.

Now farming upwards of 1,000ac, the Killen family settled in the area 50 years ago and is known over a wide area for its contracting business.

As the business expanded so did the range of skills and equipment provided by the R Killen and Sons establishment, which has also steadily expanded the family’s own farm operations.

All family members are involved in contracting along with the dairy, beef and sheep operations at home.

How they managed it

But why had the silage proved far better than feared in a season that saw whole fields flooded as rivers burst their banks?

According to Stuart having good equipment and a ‘truly professional’ harvesting team ready to seize the moment during lulls in the weather was of course a factor.

Using the blue tractor power of their New Holland fleet plus Claas self-propelled harvesters, Ronnie and sons offer a range of services including: tanker and umbilical slurry spreading; ploughing; sowing; and all three forms of silage making – clamp, big bale and maize.

Image Source: Lorraine Kirk Photography

It’s a long way in technology since Ronnie started the business 30 years ago with a Mengele 25 trailed harvester.

“But equally important we always use Volac’s Ecosyl to stabilise the crop in the clamp. As contractors we had noticed how customers using it consistently made better silage than those still using other products.

“We have used that brand of additive for several years with great results. However, in 2017 it really was a key player in keeping livestock performance up.”

‘Attention to detail pays dividends’

Stuart said the combination allowed the family to make palatable silage with minimal waste even in the worst of conditions.

“As contractors we know attention to detail in mixing and applying additive yields huge dividends all winter,” he said.

When it comes to farming at home or working to the country having reliable equipment is vital and the same applies to selecting an additive.

“2017 was a total nightmare as regards endless rain and flooding. That Ecosyl still did the the job and delivered silage that kept up livestock performance is remarkable.

“It is proof that – when it comes to buying livestock genetics, machinery or an additive – it pays to go for the product proven to work in all local conditions.”