With the steady fall in dairy farmer numbers in his area around Houghton Conquest, Bedfordshire, farmer and contractor Ray Lane had the foresight some years ago to focus his forage harvesting services on baled as opposed to clamped silage.
Hence, the contracting business he runs with his sons Richard and Robert – alongside 500 acres of their own farming and a further 400 acres of contract farming - includes over 12,000 bales each year in what has become quite a specialised offering.
“Our baling and wrapping business is really an extension of the more traditional contracting services we provide,” explains Mr Lane. “And it’s one which I have been involved in for quite a few years now.
“With less than a handful of dairy farms left in this area most of the livestock is now either beef or sheep,” he explains. “These farmers usually prefer to have their silage in bales which can be dropped into feeders or simply rolled out along feed passages.”
The question was which type of bale would his customers prefer to be using – round or square? Anxious to ensure that both camps were catered for he runs big square and round balers – and not to forget the conventional baler he has used for years to cater for the equine market’s requirements.
“I think our baling fleet of two variable chamber round balers and one big square provides us with all the capacity and options that we need,” says Mr Lane. “But baling is only part of the job – albeit an important one. The other half of the job is to wrap the bales.”
The challenge was to find a bale wrapper which could handle both round and square bales and make as good a job with both types in terms of wrap and speed.
The solution came at the start of this year when a Kuhn SW 4004 trailed bale wrapper arrived in the yard. This machine has the versatility to handle square bales up to120cm x 140cm cross section and up to 200cm in length, and round bales with a diameter up to 1.5m.
A feature which found immediate favour was the telescoping main frame which, powered hydraulically, reduces the transport width of the wrapper down to 2.5m.
“It’s a very clever system which avoids all manner of problems when travelling on the road,” comments Mr Lane. “Some of our customers are quite a few miles away and it’s important to be able to travel quickly and safely.”
But it was in the field that the wrapper’s ability to handle both square and round bales was put to the test – this year there were about 7,500 round bales and 3,000 square bales for this machine to wrap.
Bales are self-loaded onto the rollers – the four rollers straddle the bale and then lift it horizontally so that the wrapping cycle can commence. Film is applied by twin satellite arms as the rollers rotate the bale; for silage the Lanes usually apply six layers of film and for haylage, eight layers. Once wrapped, the bales are lowered gently to the floor and the next bale is loaded.
“The aim is to always have bales wrapped as soon as possible after they have been made so the wrapper is usually working up behind the baler. We can wrap at a rate of about 50 bales/hour when on our 120cm x 70cm square bales and slightly more on round bales,” he explains. “We have a 120hp John Deere 6430 to pull it and use Kuhn’s control box system to apply settings and record bale numbers – it’s all very easy to connect up and operate.”
As ever though, the proof of the job is in the quality of silage and Mr Lane reports that his customers are pleased with the results – the bales are well wrapped and the silage made is in good condition.
The Lanes run their business from Village Farm, Houghton Conquest, where they have their own arable enterprises. The farm, on strong Bedfordshire clay requiring careful and timely management, grows winter wheat, oilseed rape and peas and the contract farmed acreage also majors in a combinable crop regime.