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Cutting forage costs

Machinery investment pays dividends

With the arrival of a new baler / bale wrapper combination, Irish beef farmer Eoin Ryan has seen silage making costs reduce and forage quality improve.

With fields typically less than three acres and steep terrain, silage making at Waterville, Co Kerry is not without its challenges.

On the farm, which runs to about 150ha (375 acres) Mr Ryan runs a 60-head Limousin-cross suckler herd of which half of them calve in the autumn and the remainder in the spring.

“We take the calves on until they are about eight or nine months old and then sell them as stores,” he explains. “We don’t have the length of grazing time to fatten cattle economically.
Winters can be long and hard so it is essential to make sufficient silage to see the cattle through the winter period.”

In a normal spring, the first silage cut starts at the beginning of June with as many as three following cuts made throughout the season with the last one usually made in September. In total, Mr Ryan makes about 300 acres of silage and about half as much again on contract.

The grass is cut using a 6m Kuhn front and rear combination mower and Kuhn tedder and 10m rake. The baler/wrapper is operated behind a 170hp tractor.

“My main thought when I purchased the new baler combination was that instead of making lots of bales with diameters of 4ft, which we did with our old round baler, we could make fewer 5ft diameter bales,” he says. “In fact, when I did the sums I discovered that, given the same density, it was possible to reduce the number of bales by as much as a half.”

The VBP 2160, with its variable chamber can be set to produce bales with diameters from 31in to 63in. The bale is started in a pre-chamber with a choice of moderate or soft cores and, as the bale grows within the chamber, movement of the belt tensioning arm meets increasing resistance from two hydraulic cylinders and a spring tensioner.

The result is that, as the bale grows, its density also increases so that the completed bale is very firm with a moderately soft core.

As standard, the bale/wrapper is also equipped with a chopping unit with a theoretical chop length of 7cm and a bale weight which is reported to be in the 900kg zone.

“One of the advantages of feeding chopped silage is that the cattle can only pull small amounts through the barriers and drop it on the slatted floors,” he says.

Once the bale is completed and net-wrapped, it is transferred to the wrapping table – the sequence designed to ensure a rapid and secure transfer even when working on steep, sloping fields.

This is just as well, because that is exactly the type of terrain in which Mr Ryan tends to use the baler.

“The two arms which shunt the bale onto the wrapping table do a sterling job and, with the tilting forward of the wrapping table, hold the bale secure,” he says. “The wrapper unit, with its satellite arms makes a quick job of placing four layers of film on the bale while the next bale is being made but care needs to be taken when it comes to selecting a place to eject it – the manual hold option is essential at this point.

“Overall, though, we are making fewer bales, which means there are fewer to wrap, fewer to transport and fewer to store.”

He adds that there are also savings in time and costs when it comes to feeding the bales to the cattle as he doesn’t have so many to handle each day. It’s a real win-win situation.

“All in all, our silage production costs are down considerably – which I’m more than pleased about.”
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