Western Isles turn to mini balers for good hay
MAKING good quality hay can be hard in mainland Britain, but in the Western Isles, where the weather is less than friendly most of the time, it is rarely possible.
The result is that livestock crofters often have to rely on winter feed imported from the mainland, and the expense this incurs. A mini-bale of hay is valued at about £4.50 on this basis. This extra cost of purchased winter fodder has now become a financial burden, making the future for livestock on the Isles increasingly vulnerable.
But now Italian technology has landed. A project instigated by the Scottish Agricultural College advisory office last year, set out to evaluate the use of mini round balers to conserve silage in the Isles, using six different crofts throughout Lewis and Harris.
Silage making began in the fourth week of July using the Italian built Wolvo mini round baler and wrapping system. The system requires a low power input and no hydraulic couplings, making it suitable for use with many of the crofters smaller tractors. Bale size and weight was also considered important, the 57cm x 63cm (22in x 25in) bale small enough to be handled and fed conveniently. Output during the trials was between 40 and 60 bales an hour.
Typical trial sites comprised fields of 0.4ha (1 acre) or less with a variety of conditions and grass types. Overall, the weather was considered to have been poor.
Even so, analysed samples of silage gave some satisfactory results. Dry matter was lower than hoped for – due to the bad weather – but ME levels protein and D values were near the Scottish national average for the season.
The main conclusion trials was that mini-bale silage was of a satisfactory feeding quality and equal to that produced by big bale silage harvested using the same grass.
Although the cost of the Wolvo mini-baler and wrap system is under £10,000 it represents a significant outlay for the crofter. The report recommends that an island based contractor/machinery ring would be the most appropriate way of offering such a service. *