BYGONE DAYS: Top silage award won by an Ulster producer for a second year

For the second year in succession a Northern Ireland farmer had won the top prize in the British Grassland Society’s National Silage Competition, reported Farming Life during this week in March 1982.

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The outstanding Simmental bull of Joe Campbell from Strabane, Co Tyrone, which was top of the breed performance test at at Loughgall, Co Armagh, in February 1982. Picture: Farming Life archives

Dunleath Estates Ltd based at Ballywalter, Co Down, had beaten off the challenge of eight other contestants, each of whom had won local and then regional Grassland Society competitions held earlier in the year throughout the United Kingdom, involving more than 1,000 farmers. 1981’s winner was Mr Alan Kyle from Omagh.

With a winning total of 89.5 marks out of 100, Mr Jack Harris, managing director of Dunleath Estates, beat by four marks the second placed man, Mr D McCluskey of Lea Farm, Roslin, Midlothian, Scotland.

The prize, a handsome piece of inscribed silverware known as the ICI Trophy, was presented to Mr Harris at a ceremony in London by the Minister of Agriculture, Mr Peter Walker.

Mr Cecil McIlwaine from Newtownstewart, Co Tyrone, with his Simmental bull which was placed second in the beef performance test at Loughgall, Co Armagh, in February 1982. Picture: Farming Life archives

The three judges, D Alan Edwards (East of Scotland College of Agriculture), Mr Alan Kyle (1981’s winner) and Mr Ken Nelson (ICI) reached their verdict after taking into account the analyses of the various silages, as well as such factors as overheating, contamination and mould growth. Making and feeding efficiency, quantity of silage fed in relation to requirements and the amount of supplementation were also assessed.

Commeting on the winner, Dr Edwards said on behalf of the judges: “Mr Harris grew a good crop of grass, cut at the right stage and ensiled quickly and paid particular attention to the final sealing of the clamp. This was all reflected in the silage analysis.

“On inspection, he only dropped 1.5 marks due to a slight surface waste. Good use was made of the silage for both dairy cows and replacements and beef cows. We questioned only the need to feed molasses with such high quality silage.”

To celebrate the UK premier silage making, the company’s chairman Lord Dunleath held a reception for all staff in Ballywalter early in March 1982.

Mrs S Hall from Strabane, Co Tyrone, with her Charolais bull, which was second in the Loughgall performance test in February 1982. Picture: Farming Life archives

Congratulating all concerned he said that the success not only reflected credit on members of the company’s staff but was also “a feather in the cap of Northern Ireland”.

Lord Dunleath said: “There are all too many people across the water (and mostly those who have never been here) who think the province is nothing much better than a dump.

“We are proud to have been able to follow up Mr Alan Kyle’s breakthrough in winning the award last year.”

Lord Dunleath said that making top quality silage was cardinal to the viability of any cattle rearing enterprise and most particularly so in the case of the dairy.

Line-up of Simmental bulls at the end of the beef performance tests at Loughgall, Co Armagh, in February 1982. Picture: Farming Life archives

He said: “With our 250 cows in milk during the crucial late winter period now hundreds by thousands of pounds can be saved by having good silage thus allowing most economical use to be made of concentrates.”

Lord Dunleath commended the estate’s managing director, Mr Jack Harris, for his policy in having highly mechanised the silage making operation. This policy, Lord Dunleath said, was “perhaps vindicated more than ever last year when much conservation of grass was undertaken during unsettled weather conditions.

Lord Dunleath commented: “The nearest thing to which I can compare it is watching a wartime film where at an airbase the squadron leader comes and shouts ‘Scrabble’. When conditions improve after a day or two’s inclement weather, Mr Harris, having been to the field and satisfied himself that the crop has dried sufficiently, returns to the yard and orders action stations.

“The sound effect is not dissimilar from that of a squadron of fighters taking off as eight diesel engines start up and heads off to resume silage making. There are three eight ton and one seven ton trailers, the Heston 7650 supercharged two stroke self-propelled forage harvester and the 150 horsepower industrial loader which conveys and consolidates silage in the silo.

Mr Norman McClelland from Coleraine, Co Londonderry, with his Charolais bull, which was top of the breed in the performance test at Loughgall, Co Armagh, in February 1982. Picture: Farming Life archives

“Simultaneous with this the 9ff rotary mower is moving into the next field followed by the rower, so as to ensure that the grass had 24 to 48 hours wilting before it is ensiled.”