Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Quality key for Shropshire grassland specialist

June 29, 2018 by  
Filed under Profiles

Expert knowledge means Shropshire-based contractor Colin Bowen is able to provide  a top-notch  service. Simon Wragg reports.

Making high quality, high energy silage using forage wagons to layer forage evenly into a clamp has particular significance for Shropshire-based contractor Colin Bowen, who also manages an expanding 250-cow herd near Shrewsbury.

With sons Steve and Allan, the business has steadily evolved since it was established in 1993. The family recently moved to the 55ha Church Farm in Acton Scott and acquired a further 68ha of adjoining land.

“I worked for the likes of Bamford and Bensons in the machinery sector before setting up as a tractor and man for hire based in Craven Arms, initially. Forage has been a focus for a number of years and Steve – who was a demonstrator for Pottinger – runs a Pottinger Torro 5100 and a Combiline 6510 behind two Fendt 720s across the season having stepped up from 718s.

“Along with the dairy unit at Shrewsbury which I’ve been involved with for seven years, we have customers who’ve gone down the route of wanting to make five cuts of high quality but less bulky silage throughout the year, typically analysing at 12 ME, for dairy and beef cattle. The forage wagon system works well for that.”

Attention to detail

Having cut grass at a height of 75-80mm with a centre-pivot Pottinger mower ahead of the wagons, the Bowens are fastidious ensuring the rake operator knows their job to avoid contamination of the forage with soil or stones. “It increases the ash content of the silage – which isn’t desirable – and it damages the wagon’s cutting knives,” he adds.

Rather than create a traditional wedge layers of differing cuts of silage – whether grass, clover or lucerne – the company aims to produce a level clamp of thin layers to give a more consistent product on feeding out. “Silage is cut in the field but made in the clamp,” he adds.

Care is taken sealing clamps with extra cling film layers added to the sides to ensure an air-tight seal. At roughly £90/sheet, the cost equates to three tonnes of wasted silage (from secondary fermentation) and is – in Mr Bowen’s opinion – a wise investment.

On feeding out, the Bowens ensure a clean ‘bite’ is taken from across the clamp face in under three days at the managed dairy herd to reduce risk of a secondary fermentation.

Working relationship

That can mean taking just a six inch ‘bite’ rather than a full shear grab, he explains. “And we prefer to tip it on the clamp floor and move it to a mixer wagon in a bucket to avoid losing silage whilst travelling across the yard.”

Steve’s knowledge of Pottinger equipment and a close working relationship with Fendt dealer R V W Pugh helps ensure all kit is maintained to a high standard, it’s suggested. A fleet of older Fords (including 40-Series) are still used for lighter jobs.

Adding to the forage service, CR Bowen Contractors also run a mobile straw mill for those producers committed to increasing the use of long fibre into dairy rations to lift butterfat profiles and formulate transition diets for dairy cows ahead of calving, he adds.

Grassland rejuvenation is another area of specialism using a 3m wide Aerworks aerator roller. This has proved effective in correcting the poaching often seen with the early turnout of dairy cattle or over-wintering of sheep, explains Steve.

Soil structure

“We also run an Erth pan buster for grassland. The most important piece of equipment with this machine is a spade to determine where the pan is in the soil structure. This ensures the legs can be set at the correct depth to heave the ground and break the pan. Slitting discs in front of the legs prevent damage to the turf.”

With in-hand arable ground to manage, the family business offers services including direct drilling using a Duncan drill whilst also looking to introduce a low disturbance John Deere 750A disc drill.

Ploughing sees one of the first new generation slatted bodied Kuhn Varimaster six furrow ploughs being introduced. It features pin-and-hole adjustment on the skimmers for ease of set-up and effective burying of trash to reduce herbicide bills, explains Mr Bowen.

Allan is very much committed to sheep tasks and undertakes shearing throughout the season. This will see the family’s flock of 500 Romney ewes slowly replaced by Suffolk bloodlines to allow lambing to begin on 1 January. This will clear the way for helping out with off-farm contracting.

“Our other main contract service is fencing,” he adds. A Protec 300 knocker, Solonet automated net dispenser and gas powered stapler enables a clean job to be completed.

The business also sees daughter Suzie and wife Jennifer helping with administration and the home farm enterprises. “I did come out of contracting in 2003 to invest in a diversification but didn’t realise how much it impacted on the boys as they saw it as their future.”

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