DURING the course of the year, I have been reporting on the progress of seven maize trial sites throughout the region – culminating in a full and comprehensive analysis in last month’s issue.

One of these sites was identified as a Cornwall Farmers Site in South Devon and it gives me great pleasure in introducing you to David Merrin – the farmer who kindly agreed to having the trial laid down.

David had been farming in the northern half of southern Ireland – in fact only nine miles south of the border, but for a number of years, had been yearning for a much larger farm, as opposed to the somewhat small and often fragmented units that could be experienced in that particular part of his homeland, David bought Hendham View Farm, Woodleigh, near Kingsbridge back in 2006 before finally moving his family over last year. The farm totals 387 acres with an additional 90 being rented – all of which was laid down to grass when he moved in. With over 25 years’ experience in beef production, David’s intention was a continuation of that policy but this time in bull beef.

Holstein/Friesian bull calves are bought throughout the year at two weeks old from local dairy farmers, fattened off, before being finally sold at 16 months to ABP/ASDA.

For his first two years, the only crop was grass – the whole farm being grazed early in the spring from mid March, with the first cut of silage being taken in early June – an exercise that proved relatively simple but one that was subsequently found lacking in nutritional terms and it was early this spring that he decided to heed the advice from Charlie Siggs – Cornwall Farmers’ arable specialist in South Devon, and planted 48 acres of forage maize. David’s cropping experience to date had always been grassland, although he was aware of forage maize being grown in Ireland – most of it being under plastic due to the marginal conditions. He was also acutely aware of the nutritional benefits of maize – especially starch – and, as such, felt that top quality maize would complement his high dry matter, slightly more fibrous grass silage.

This winter, there are 500 animals of varying ages that are in the throes of being fattened off – animals that for the first time on this farm will be fattened off on the farm’s own produced forage mixture of maize and grass silage, plus concentrates. With the maize being harvested in October and being immediately fed, David was able to see right away that maize was stimulating appetites and increasing intakes as he was able to make direct comparisons with the same animals both without and, since harvest, with maize. “Once maize was introduced into the diet,’’ said David “they certainly ate more.”

Irrespective of the time of year, all stock are housed at the age of 11 months in preparation for fattening and during this five month process, they are fed on a 70/30 maize/grass forage mixture, plus a ration of home mixed concentrate – all of which is fed in troughs, once a day, via a Keenan Feeder Wagon – the final three months seeing the beef being fed 10 kgs of forage mixture plus 10 kgs of concentrate. David has been buying straights for many years and he is certainly of the opinion that this way offers the best value for money and gives him the base for many different feeding options, with the main constituents currently being citrus pulp, wheat distillers, biscuit meal, soya bean, molasses, barley and minerals – one such example being: 10 per cent citrus pulp; 20 per cent wheat distillers, 20 per cent biscuit meal, 48 per cent Barley and 2 per cent minerals – a mixture used specifically for the last three months of fattening.

David Merrin, said: “This is obviously a good maize growing area and I intend to capitalize, as much as possible, on the nutritional benefits. I have seen for myself how maize stimulates appetites and increases intakes and have also seen how much more flesh – not fat – is on a dairy cow when she is being fed maize. Cows on maize also tend to be much healthier with an obvious improvement in condition and there is no reason at all why those benefits cannot be transferred to my bull beef herd.”

The location of this years maize acreage was quite deliberate in that, where possible, the most unproductive grass fields were ploughed down – provided that the site was compatible for maize growing and next year, the maize acreage will be doubled as it is also planned to double the stock numbers to 1,000 animals. Grassland management is also scheduled to be improved as much more top quality silage will be required from next winter and a comprehensive, long term re-seeding programme will be put into place from next spring. David’s main objectives over the first couple of years were stock purchases and the provision of suitable winter housing and it is only now that he feels that he is able to turn his attention to upgrading the quality of winter feed and increasing stocking rates.

David’s decision to double his maize acreage next year was certainly influenced by the results of his maize trial as this was the only way he could accurately determine not only yields, but also the quality – not just of the main variety that he was growing, but also other material that, on paper, was up there with the best on earliness, yield and starch production. His main variety was Hawk and, because all the maize was following long term permanent pasture, came ready dressed with Poncho in order to combat any potential threat from wireworm. Fifteen varieties were drilled in the trial, five of which had dry matter percentages in excess of 30 – these same five varieties all having dry matter yields in excess of 5 tonnes per acre. However, it was both the starch percentage and starch yield that clinched it for David and, once again, he has opted to go for Hawk – one of only two varieties that achieved a starch yield in excess of two tonnes per acre.

“There is no doubt about it,’’ said David. “That grass, like virtually every other farm here in the south west, and Ireland, has to be the key crop for livestock farmers and, after all, that is all the stock get once they’re turned out in the spring to when they come in for fattening at 11 months old.’’ he said, “But the real bonus about farming in this particular area is that I can grow a crop which is nutritionally beneficial, complements my grass silage superbly and enables me to finish my bull beef at sixteen months old.”