Contractor relationship

Published 13 March 15

High-quality forages play a crucial role in the success of Rob Seex’s farming system. Key to achieving this is the relationship with his contractor.

Rob milks 120 summer block calving cows, east of Gloucester. For the last 20 years or so he routinely achieved 5,000 litres from forage. He farms 80ha, including a 19ha plot away from the milking platform, used for silage ground and whole crop. Rob buys in maize from his contractor.

“Forage quality needs to be right,” explains Rob. “I’m looking for 11.5ME across the board with all my silages, grass, maize and wholecrop. I also aim to get the maximum amount of quality forage into the cows. I don’t want to see the trough empty, I want the cows to have every opportunity to eat. If there is anything left over, it’s not wasted but gets shovelled over to the in calf heifers.”

Rob has worked with his contractor, Derek Pither, for almost 30 years. It is a successful relationship, built on communication and trust. He feels there are a number of things you can do to create a good working relationship with your contractor.

Rob continues, “It does help that our contractor is around the corner. It means he is close to the job and doesn’t spend huge amounts of time moving men and machinery.

“Make sure your buildings, clamps and tracks are as ‘contractor friendly’ as possible. Anything you can do to help make his job easier will pay off. We talked with Derek when we were putting up new silage clamps to see what would work best for all of us.”

“Start a conversation with your contractor at least a month before you think you’ll be cutting. Make sure both sides are fully informed of the timescale. Our target cutting date is 1 May but, some years, it’s been as early as 20 April. Derek and I already had a conversation about this year’s dates. You don’t want to call your contractor the day before you want to cut, only to find the chopper is being serviced.

“I know contractors struggle with farmers who leave a message saying they are ready to go, but when they are rung back to let them know the mowers will be turning up in the morning, they admit they haven’t got round to cleaning out the pits/ordering the sheets yet.  So make sure you are fully prepared.

“The additive for this year’s cut is already in the office and I want my silage sheets here by the middle of April.

“I might be able to get the silage done cheaper by shopping around, but that doesn’t buy the kind of relationship that means you are at the top of your contractors list. As quality forage is such an important part of the cow’s diet, shopping on price alone is a false economy. I need the contractor to come when I need him to.

“Derek does all our contracting work, so he is well informed on what’s happening on the farm and is prepared for the next piece of work, sometimes even before I am!

“And, last but by no means least, when it comes to your contractor, pay your bills in a timely fashion,” concludes Rob.