Peter Clayton has two herds of 320 all-year-round calving cows, situated 30 miles apart, with one at Larkton Hall, near Malpas, Cheshire. The business is run in partnership with his father Richard, mother Jane and wife Anne. The emphasis is on producing milk from forage, with almost half (4,000 litres) coming from grazing and conserved forage, out of an average yield of 8,600 litres.
Liquid milk is sold to Arla and Mrs Clayton also makes unpasteurised Italian alpine-style cheeses, selling them through The Cheese Shop in Chester and at local farmers’ markets.
At Larkton Hall there are 106 hectares in total, with 12 hectares of maize. A further 20 hectares of maize is grown on additional rented land. The soils are generally light sandy loam.
“I have been growing maize for 32 years and it is all about attention to detail,” says Mr Clayton. “I soil test every field every three years and monitor the crops from the moment they emerge to when they are harvested.”
Maize is generally grown in the same fields every year, due to their location. Post-harvest, if conditions allow, the fields are cultivated with a deep leg cultivator - then left for the winter.
In spring one 8ha maize block has farm-yard manure from the calf boxes applied at 8t/ha and ploughed.
The rest of the maize land has 13.5m3/ha of slurry injected at a depth of 15cm by a contractor in March. If the ground is dry enough, a combination of subsoiler/discs and packer roller go over in one pass to produce an open and deep seed bed.
From the beginning of April, Mr Clayton takes soil temperatures at 7cm to 8cm deep – waiting until 10°C is reached consistently in the morning before getting the drill out. This year sowing took place on 25 April.
Two Pioneer varieties, P7326 which is a high yielding early variety and P7034, the first early flowering dent type variety to be sold in the UK, have been grown this year. Mr Clayton likes their disease resistance and is expecting yields of more than 21t/ha. Seed was treated with Korit to keep the crows away.
140kg/ha of nitrogen (N) and 140kg of liquid potassium (K) is applied prior to power harrowing and diammonium phosphate (DAP) is applied at a rate of 100kg/ha down the spout at drilling. In future, all organic manures will be tested to make sure all the nutrients required are being given.
Forty-eight hours after drilling a pre-emergent spray of pendimethalin is used to suppress weeds, in particular meadow grass. There may be an additional clear-up spray at the end of May with a mesotrione product.
The gate is then shut until harvest from the end of September onwards. Mr Clayton looks for a high dry matter of 43%, when he knows the starch has set. He always uses the Pioneer silage inoculant 11CFT, which protects and improves the harvested material. This is applied through a Super Low Volume (SLV), high pressure applicator, delivered as a mist to all surfaces of the plant.
The maize is put into a clamp which is 24 metres wide and 4 metres in height. Buck-raking and rolling are high priority jobs to ensure good consolidation. The clamp is sealed with clingfilm and covered with black plastic sheets and weighted down with tyres.
The maize is fed as soon as it is harvested and blocks are cut with a shear grab every day and added to the mixer wagon.
“Maize makes up 40% of our forage mix. Last year’s silage analysed out at a very high dry matter of 37%, a high 11.7 ME, with a very high starch content of 34.2%.”