Posted: February 21, 2019

Strategies to Optimise Silage Quality and Cattle Health

Strategies to boost silage quality and optimise herd and calf health will be the focus of the next Borders Monitor farm meeting on Wednesday 6th March at Whitriggs Farm, near Denholm.

Robert and Lesley Mitchell farm in partnership with their son Stuart. The family have always been passionate about producing the very best silage that they can and currently take 2-3 cuts each year using their own forage wagon, producing an average of 1,500 tonnes of silage annually from roughly 100 hectares.

“We are generally very happy with the silage we produce at Whitriggs, but our focus has always been quality over quantity,” said Robert Mitchell. The family introduced short term leys of red clover and Italian ryegrass into the crop rotation around six years ago, which they say has helped improve the quality of the silage they produce.

At the meeting, ruminant nutritionist Robert Gilchrist from the ANM Farm Profit Progamme will run an interactive session to make farmers think about their own silage production and how they can improve it in advance of silage making this spring/summer.

“Most livestock farmers produce silage, and I’m keen to encourage them to think about how much it actually costs to produce the silage they make. Only then can they start to make accurate cost comparisons between making and feeding their own silage against feeding other crops or purchased feed.”

Also at the meeting, the group will discuss the key benefits of feeding good quality silage, and attendees will be asked to try and identify what they think is the ‘’best’’ silage from a range of samples provided by management team members.

Mr Gilchrist will also highlight the potential cost savings that can be made by targeting good quality silage to livestock with the highest needs. As the feed requirements of dry suckler cows are lower than growing or finishing cattle, managing suckler cow condition when feeding high quality silage can be a problem. Mr Gilchrist will therefore suggest some strategies to help keep cows in the optimum condition when feeding good silage.

The Mitchells have a herd of 170 suckler cows which includes Beef Shorthorn crosses and Aberdeen Angus crosses. They recently joined the Premium Cattle Health Scheme to help manage their testing and livestock health status. One of the key issues identified by farmers in the Borders has been Johne’s Disease and George Caldow, Head of SAC Veterinary Services, will discuss the issues around Johne’s, the effect it can have on the performance and profitability of suckler herds and the options available for its control.

The group will then move to the nearby Auld Cross Keys Hotel in Denholm for lunch, followed by a session on colostrum management, led by Bridget Girvan from MSD Animal Health.

“Colostrum management is the single most important management factor in determining calf and lamb health and survival,”  said Mrs Girvan.

Colostrum is the milk produced by cows and ewes in the first 24 hours after birth and  contains antibodies (either naturally generated or via vaccination) that, when absorbed from the calf or lamb’s gut, help protect them from common disease challenges on farm. 

Mrs Girvan added: “With the calving and lambing period fast approaching, managing the nutrition of pregnant sheep and cattle is key to ensuring good colostrum production.  Once born, the young calf or lamb will also need to receive a sufficient volume of clean, high-quality colostrum within the first few hours of life to maximise their survival rate.”

Whitriggs is one of nine monitor farms established in Scotland as part of a joint initiative by Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) and AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds with funding from the Scottish Government. The aim of the monitor farm programme is to help improve the productivity, profitability and sustainability of Scottish farm businesses.

The meeting on Wednesday 6th March will begin at Whitriggs farm, near Denholm, TD9 8QR at 10am before moving to the Auld Cross Keys Hotel for lunch and the afternoon session. The meeting is expected to finish by 3pm. All are welcome and the event is free.

To reserve your place (and lunch!) please contact Stephen Young, one of the project facilitators, on 07502 339613 or email


No results found.