20 November 1998

Mini bales just the job as equine fare…

FARMERS looking for an alternative use for grassland can meet equine customers demands for small bale haylage. Small balers and wrappers are now being imported.

Haylage is proving to be a popular dust-free alternative to hay (see Farmlife Horse Special, Sep 4). However as most horse owners are unable to handle large bales, few farmers have been able to supply the market. Those that do, make the 25kg bags on a production line where the haylage is compressed and forced into a plastic sleeve.

While this, in theory, is a huge potential market for farmers, the packing equipment has to be designed by the farmer himself. This has to be worked out by trial and error, as those already in business, not surprisingly, keep the specifications secret.

&#42 Bale alternative

The alternative is a baler and wrapper that makes bales of a smaller size, in the field, and wraps them in net and film. European manufacturers have developed these to suit their own markets, where farmers have small, less mechanised holdings.

An Italian manufacturer, Wolvos baler was spotted by UK machinery importer, Nutri Mech, at the Hanover show. Elizabeth Reeves, Nutri Mech company director and Cheshire farmer says: "We have horses, so thought it would be ideal for the horse industry." The company brought in the first balers in 1996, and has already sold 120 throughout the UK.

The mini bales produced are about 30-35kg, which is one and a half times bigger than standard small square bales – or an eighth of the size of modern big round bales. At this size someone with two horses will finish a bale within two to three days. Once these bales are open they have a life span of about three days in summer and at least six days in winter.

It is made in the same way as silage, but wilted for longer to give a higher dry matter. The haylage sold by Miss Reeves family is 65% dry matter, and is sold under the Nutribale brand. Haylage is a new diversification for the farm family company, having sold its dairy herd in 1997 and converted the 202ha (500 acre) farm to an arable unit, including grass. She says: "The family started making the haylage so that we were in a position to advise on its production and marketing. We can also give producers the option to produce for Nutribale."

Miss Reevess particular concern is that farmers should appreciate that they will need to market the bales. "Farmers are used to having the raw material taken away. They are not used to marketing themselves."

Depending on the quality and marketing the bales will sell for £5-8 each. The sales director, Richard Halsall, has worked out that the cost to the farmer to make a bale is around £3, including grass and machinery depreciation. On an on-going basis the film and wrap costs about 85p a bale.

The round baler and wrapper has a hydraulic pick-up reel and rear door operated by electric in cab controls, and costs £9800 plus VAT.

Farmers looking for a smaller investment, and hoping to make use of their conventional balers could try the Mini 4K Wrapper, for £3350 plus VAT. Despite this appeal on price Miss Reeves does caution: "You must have a high density, quality bale before you contemplate packing it. Some farmers have found that their square balers are not up to coping with the greener bales."

&#42 Two seasons

Jim Sommerville from Symington, Kilmarnock has had two seasons with both machines. He produced 14,000 bales this year, which in his area of Scotland sell at £5.50 a bale. In better weather he opts for hay, but in wet seasons finds the flexibility that the haylage option provides is invaluable.

"It is a slow process. You make 50 bales an hour. It is a lot of work, which many farmers may not want, because they are used to making 60-80 big bales an hour," he comments.

He uses both the mini baler and wrapper and the wrapper for square bales. "They both work very well. I have the two so that if one breaks down I have a stand by."

Another customer, Robin Langford, a Cheshire dairy farmer, also warns it is a lot of work – particularly the deliveries by hand. The making also requires attention to detail. "You have to prepare the grass well and have it in decent rows. This year was particularly difficult. Some we made was like silage, so that had to go to the sheep, and some was in the field too long and has gone mouldy. Also you have to be very careful not to get any holes in the plastic."

He made 4000 bales this year and they have "sold like hot cakes." This was at £6 from the field and £8 delivered.

*Inquiries: Nutri-Mech, Malpas, Cheshire (01948-860175). Can be seen at Royal Smithfield Show, stand 273.

Tamara Farrant

Far left: A horse tucks into Nutri-Bale haylage. Above: Elizabeth Reeves and Richard Halsall of Nutri Mech, importers of the Italian made Wolvo baler (left) they spotted at the Hanover Show.