24 July 1998

Haylage can be risky

PRODUCING haylage for horse feed can achieve a higher gross margin than a cereal crop, according to Graham Roobottom.

But haylage quality, good yields, and a market are crucial to achieving these margins, making it a weather dependent and, therefore, risky crop.

Mr Roobottom had began making haylage at Cowley Hill Farm, Rugeley, Staffs, five to six years ago instead of a second cut of silage. But since the dispersal of his dairy herd in 1994, swards meant for haylage were drilled after cereals to produce a first quality haylage. The seed mixtures included only diploid Italian ryegrasses. He said swards only received moderate levels of nitrogen at 88kg/ha (70 units/acre) and harvest usually began in early June. The crop had to be tedded twice a day until it reached 60-70% dry matter, producing a coarse, stemmy forage, with a low dust content which was less likely to cause respiratory problems than hay. The highest quality forage was sold to racing yards, with a lower quality feed supplied to riding schools, added Mr Roobottom.

Mr Roobottoms ADAS consultant, Ewan McClombe, calculated that the variable costs, including contractors, were £787/ha (£318/acre).

Mr Roobottom achieved an output of £1800 (£728/acre), and, therefore, a gross margin of £1013/ha (£410/ha). This was a higher gross margin than a cereal crop, which produced a typical gross margin of £370/ha (£150/acre) after contractors costs.

But that margin was dependent on making a lot of the annual crop as first quality haylage; poorer quality is worth a third of the value.

Haylage for horses is more profitable than a cereal crop, according to Graham Roobottom.