Successful grass harvesting generally becomes more difficult in areas of heavy rainfall, so western areas such as Wales, Ireland and Northern Ireland tend to present most challenges for those reliant on quality forage.
This has certainly been the experience of Herbie Blackburn, farming in the Clogher Valley in County Fermanagh where – in partnership with his brother – he finishes around 400 Charolais beef cattle each year.
Quality silage is an essential ingredient for the enterprise and – to combat rising costs and the vagaries of the Northern Irish climate – he has evolved his system away from clamps to big bales and, most recently, has invested in his own machinery to reduce his reliance on an outside contractor.
“We find our silage goes a lot further as bales as it ever did when we made it in a clamp, which is at least partly due to reduced wastage,” explains Herbie. “Bales are more efficient and suit our system a lot better, particularly as we are aiming for relatively dry silage – almost haylage.”
The silage making system is to cut the grass on day one, ted it out on day two, and then row it up and bale it on day three. All together, with Herbie, his brother and a third farmer working in partnership, they will make over 2,000 round bales in a season, so it has been worthwhile building a fleet of equipment to achieve self-sufficiency.
“We’ve had our own mower for a long time, and then we bought a 30ft tedder three years ago and a rake two years ago,” adds Herbie. “Last year we bought a Kuhn i-Bio baler and wrapper combination, so can now do the entire job ourselves.”
KUHN's i-Bio baler/wrapper combination can work in a range of conditions and is fitted with big wheels to aid travel across wet ground.
Being independent of the contractor means the partners can be a lot more selective about when they harvest, and can be sure that the different jobs are done at the optimum time within each cut. Additional efficiency and versatility has also come with the choice of a round baler and wrapper combination, which is run behind a 155 horsepower Fendt tractor.
“The Kuhn i-Bio is a lot lighter than our contractor’s baler, and we have the larger wheel option, so we can work in a wider range of conditions, particularly if the ground is wet,” says Herbie. “The baler is also very difficult to block as it has a really good intake mechanism.
“We also find that it makes really good compact bales. They are actually smaller in size than the bales that our contractor’s machine made, but they last the cattle just as long. We also use about half the amount of netting than we used before, because the bales are wrapped inside the bale chamber.
“We opted for a combination as opposed to two separate machines mainly to avoid tying up another man and tractor. The baling and wrapping process is slower than we achieved with the contractor, but this actually suits our system well.”
Purchased with 0% finance over 3 years, the annual payments on the machine are actually only slightly more than the annual contractor’s bill, so the decision is proving to be a good one for all sorts of reasons.
Made in timely fashion and to the optimum dry matter, the baled silage provides a high quality forage source for the Charolais bulls, complementing the high concentrate component of the diet to minimise problems such as acidosis.
Bulls are bought in as stores at around six months of age (350 – 360kg liveweight) and finished over a 12 month period on the farm, some of which will be grazing. An average dead weight of around 500kg is achieved from the system, with bulls typically killing out at around 63%, usually U or E grade carcases and 3L fat class.