Timeliness key to quality haylage production
For Geoff Rodaway, haylage production is big business. Each year he reckons to produce upwards of 11,000 big square bales of it and, with more than 250 customers, he says he manages to sell every one of them.
Trading as Sussex Haylage, and based at South Chailey, a few miles north of Brighton, Mr Rodaway’s enterprise is now harvesting in excess of 1,000 acres each year for haylage.
Geoff Rodaway: “The two Kuhn GMD 3510 tractor mounted straight mowers provide the output I need to help ensure consistant quality in the haylage we produce,” he says.
Success has not come easily, however, as haylage simply doesn’t make itself. To ensure his customers receive a consistent quality product, Mr Rodaway believes there are three essential ingredients.
“One is having high quality weed-free grass to work with, the second is having good modern machinery and the third is having a dedicated team of operators,” he says.
In terms of grass quality, Mr Rodaway reseeds pastures when he considers them to have become tired and outdated in their species, because this is when response to fertiliser reduces and yields start to decline.
“Reseeding is not something we are over keen on doing on our heavy clay ground so we usually delay things by at least a couple of seasons by direct seeding new species into the existing ley,” he explains. “We use a mixture of perennial ryegrass along with a small percentage of Timothy, which seems to work very well for us.”
Depending on the season, the first of two cuts starts in late May. Fertiliser is applied in sequence with the order of cutting so that blocks of about 100 acres can be processed successively.
“Timing is crucial and it’s important to keep a close watch on the development of grass so mowing takes place when the maturity and sugar levels are at their optimum,” he says.
Once the decision is made to start mowing, speed of operation becomes essential to provide evenness of quality. This is where Mr Rodaway’s second mandate for good quality haylage comes into play.
“We cut using two Kuhn GMD 3510 tractor mounted mowers which work together in the same field,” he explains. “We used to have a trailed mower conditioner but, as we expanded the acreage, it didn’t have sufficient output and also needed a large amount of power and fuel.
“I considered purchasing a front mower conditioner unit to work with the trailed mower but this would have meant even more fuel being consumed and not necessarily any greater output. The alternative was to purchase two tractor mounted straight mowers – void of conditioning units.”
He chose the latter option and points out that output is now more than sufficient with 100 acres/day being comfortably achieved. Better still, the investment was less overall and fuel usage was contained.
“We really didn’t need conditioners,” he says. “In my view, the benefits are not as high as some would make them out to be and, at the end of the day, the tedders and rakes tend to do a reasonable job in this department.”
Now in their second season with over 1,500 acres behind them, the two 3.5m, eight-disc Kuhn mowers are operated behind 170hp New Holland tractors at speeds of up to 16kph. As Mr Rodaway points out, such speeds are only possible due to the mower’s gas suspension system which uses the increased rearward pressure of the cutterbar to reduce its weight on the ground.
“The way the cutterbar follows ground contours is quite impressive,” he says. “And I should add that, while we haven’t had to use it, it is reassuring to know there is a break-back system available – one which automatically re-sets.”
Cut grass is left full width across the swath – a feature which prompts him to comment that, with the threat of heavy rain, he likes to cut before the rain arrives, rather than after when the rain water has gathered in the folds of the leaves.
GMD 3510: Speeds of up to 16kph result in outputs of over 100 acres per day. Note the way the mowed grass exits the mowers – better for rain protection, insists Mr Rodaway.
“Prolonged rain is different but I am convinced it is better to have the grass horizontal to cope with sudden downpours,” he says.
In ideal weather, a day or so after mowing, a couple of passes with a GF 8501 Gyrotedder and rowing up with a GA 7501 Gyrorake – also implements from the Kuhn stable – it is time for the baler to move in.
“For our racehorse customers, who feed haylage as part of a scheduled and controlled diet, we tend to bale at slightly higher moisture levels – say 35%, rather than the 27% we offer more generally,” he explains.
Bales are wrapped in the field – each receives six layers - and then loaded using a hydraulic squeezer onto trailers for the trip home where they are stored in a yard having several feet of crushed chalk in its base.
As a rule, every effort is made to clear fields in the same day they are made – overnight bird and vermin damage has, in the past, led to bales being re-wrapped.
“This has meant we have needed to work into the night to load the last bales on to the trailers but it has been worth it,” he insists.
There is no denying the enthusiasm Mr Rodaway has for the haylage job and it is one which is reflected in the keenness of his three employees each of whom are prepared to work long and hard to ensure a successful outcome.
“I think it is important to work as a team – there is little point having top quality, high output mowers if we don’t fully exploit the advantage they give us,” he concludes.