Finishing beef to a high standard from mostly home-grown forage is future-proofing a Pembrokeshire beef farm ahead of changes to the agricultural support system in Wales.

High quality silage is at the heart of the pedigree suckler and commercial beef systems run by the Evans family, who farm 900 acres in north Pembrokeshire.

All the silage is made into big bales during a process that starts with getting the basics right.

Mark Evans, who farms with his parents, Wyn and Margaret, and wife, Emma, and is the winner of the 2018 All-Wales Big Bale Silage Competition, says it all starts with getting the pH right within his medium loam soils.

“If you get that right you will have decent grass,’’ he says.

The grass is wilted for 48-hours – it is mown in the afternoon, tedded the following day and baled on the third day.

Mark targets a dry matter content of 50 per cent because it allows for high intakes, something he couldn’t achieve with clamp silage, he says.

“At this level of dry matter the silage wouldn’t be stable in the clamp,’’ he says.

This year he made 3,500 bales at an average of 650kg/bale.

“If this was clamp silage we would have to make double that volume because the dry matter content would need to be lower.’’

2018 and its weather extremes produced mixed results across the three harvests – the first cut yielded 10 bales/acre, the second, at the height of the very dry conditions, the yield dropped to three bales/acre, but growth had recovered by the third cut, to six bales/acre.

Mark attributes the success of producing prize winning bale silage to the use of young leys – this year he won the North Pembrokeshire Grassland Society’s competition for the best new ley and was also named best grassland manager.

Mowing in the afternoons when sugars are high is also important, he says, as is keeping the silage-making operation in-house to maintain full control of when to harvest.

The family farms four holidings – Treglemais Fawr and Upper Harglodd are owned while Hendre and Penysgwarne are rented. Annual rainfall averages 43 inches.

Focusing on grass and silage quality allows the business to make better use of home-grown feed in the beef system.

Eight years ago, the family, who had been producing milk at Treglemais Farm, near Solva, for three generations, sold the 250-cow Holstein Friesian herd to concentrate on their beef enterprise and growing arable crops.

They had used Simmentals on the dairy herd for many years and established the Dewisland herd 10 years ago.

The closed herd of 65 suckler cows and 25 heifers is a high health status herd and CHeCS (Cattle Health Certification Standard) accredited.

“For me, the Simmental is a good middle of the road breed,’’ says Mark. “They are not the shapeliest but they are easy to handle and have a good feed conversion efficiency – we are able to finish bull calves at under 13 months at 340-350kg deadweight.’’

All male calves are left entire, some for breeding and the remainder for bull beef, all sold to ABP.

Three hundred calves of mixed breeds are sourced direct from farms and reared on two automatic calf feeders. These animals are sold finished at 300kg deadweight. There are also some Friesian bull calves which are finished at 10-12 months at 220kg deadweight.

Suckled calves are weaned at housing in November and loose housed while cows and finishing cattle over 450 kg are cubicle housed. Purchased calves and bull beef are loose housed.

The suckler cows are fed silage from bale feeder trailers – no supplements are fed.

Calves are creep fed on home grown cereals and a protein balancer. A finishing ration is introduced at 450 kg, achieving a 1.3-1.5 daily liveweight gain (dlwg) from a silage-based diet, fed in a TMR with rolled barley.

The bull beef animals are fed an ad-lib cereal-based ration while young calves receive grass silage and red clover silage.

As profit margins have become smaller, the Evanses have scaled up livestock numbers.

“The margin per head is so tight, it’s a numbers game now,’’ Mark admits.

“But we have found a system that works with silage and the animals perform well on that.’’