IT'S been a stop-start silage season so far with unpredictable weather and unreliable forecasts. This makes it all the more important to be able to make that proverbial hay while the sun does shine. In many cases, achieving a good output is all about having the right machinery.
I was in Modeligo in Waterford recently to meet young contractor Padraig McCarthy. Padraig has been contracting for about ten years.
He started off doing some tedding and baling work for neighbours and that gradually progressed to the stage he is at today, where he bales and wraps about 17,000 bales annually for farmers all over the west Waterford area. He specialises in bales, with no pit silage work whatsoever.
''Pit work is just too expensive to get into in my view,'' Padraig reasons. ''And besides, this is big bale country; nearly every farmer makes bales because they're so handy to feed. A lot of farmers around here prefer to take a lighter cut more often rather than a couple of big bulky cuts. Normally at least one of those cuts goes to bales and the local farmers have been good to me in terms of giving me work.''
Ask any baled silage contractor what the most important part of running a smooth operation is and they will tell you it's all about matching the machines to each other.
Padraig explains: ''It's all about having the baler, the bale handler and the wrapper working in sync with each other; you don't want one getting too far ahead of the other because that inevitably leads to delays. I've found a good system that works for me now and it all means that I can bale and wrap about 50 bales an hour on average.''
The system that Padraig refers to consists of a Krone Comprima F125 XC round baler, a Tanco 1320 twin arm bale wrapper and a couple of Keltrans bale handlers that bring the bales from the field to the yard for wrapping.
The bale handlers, made by Limerick firm Keltec Engineering, are key to Padraig's operation because he says most of his customers prefer to wrap and stack the bales in the yard rather than in the field.
''At current plastic prices, the last thing a farmer wants is to rip plastic while bringing the bale from the field to the yard. With our system, that doesn't happen and it's also a faster set-up; you don't need to be so wary when picking the bales up because they're not wrapped yet.''
Looking at the whole operation in action in the field, you could see how the team have indeed got a neat system cracked. Padraig was baling with a clean looking secondhand John Deere 6920s (bought off Done Deal) and the Krone baler at the time I was there.
One of his workers was driving a Case IH with one of the Keltrans bale handlers in tow. The Keltrans, a trailed unit with hydraulic foldable wings, can pick up eight bales at a time and then transport them down to the yard as seen in the picture.
If the draw is longer, the team have a second Keltrans handler they can add into the system to speed it up, but for the job they were at when I called there was no need because the yard was just beside the field.
Down in the yard, a third driver was on the JCB telehandler which was fitted with the Tanco 1320 wrapper and stacker. This machine is crucial to the whole setup. Bought last year from local machinery dealers Kill Agri Services in Killrossanty, Padraig says it has been working very well for him so far.
''It has allowed us to increase our bales made per hour from 35 up to 50 or even 60 an hour for a short draw. Before the 1320 we had a Tanco 1300; the key difference with the new wrapper is that it has twin wrap dispenser arms -- basically it can wrap the bale nearly twice as fast.
''Once the bales are wrapped the telehandler driver then stacks them in place ready for feeding. You only handle the wrapped bale once so you minimise the chance of damage. The alternative system of wrapping in the field means you have to load the bale and then unload it again; that's only asking for trouble.''
Padraig also bought the Krone baler last year, again from another local dealer, Jim Power in Tallow, and it's going well for him this season. He says there was an issue with it last year with putting net wrap on bales but that has now been ironed out.
''It's going well and the plan is to keep it for four or five seasons. It seems to be a baler that's well matched to the wrapper and I'm always able to keep just ahead of the Keltec handlers as well. We have two mowers; a Kverneland Taarup 4032 and a new 10ft Kuhn.''
To stop the whole team from getting too fed up with any one particular job, Padraig regularly changes his drivers around machines.
''It can be an awful long day if you're down in the yard wrapping for 12 or 15 hours straight,'' he explains. ''That's why we like to change around every few hours. It just shortens the day and makes it more interesting.''