Forage focus: Producing 20,000 bales of haylage in Co. Tipperary

The concept behind Hayden’s Haylage seems like a relatively simple idea – you make small bales of haylage and you sell them. However, we live in Ireland and haylage is a difficult product to get right.

The Haydens have been perfecting their method since 1997 and now make 20,000 bales each year in Longford Pass, Co. Tipperary.

Ned and Sean Hayden, along with Ned’s son Martin, have a plant on their farm, where they make 25kg bales of haylage – mainly for the horse trade.

Michael ‘Mouse’ Morris, trainer to War of Attrition and Rule the World, is a customer of Hayden’s Haylage.

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Martin and Ned Hayden

The product is also becoming popular away from the equine industry. Many dairy farmers are now using the bales as a source of fibre for calves. The product is handy for storage and is tidy compared to a 4X4 bale.

A big plus of the product is the size of the bales and this ensures that animals are provided with good-quality haylage. Unlike big bales of haylage, which can deteriorate when exposed to air, the small bales ensure that animals are provided with “fresh, high-quality feed”.

Sean had just received an order from a local dairy farmer before AgriLand arrived. He explained: “A lot of dairy farmers in the area are using them. A local farmer rang me this morning for 30 bales. He has calves on the ground now.

It’s very palatable and the calves start eating it straight away.

“People buy round bales in places and, when they open a bale, it’s mouldy. Or they don’t use it quick enough and it heats. They know if they buy haylage from us, or in a co-op, they are buying good-quality feed.

“If the quality of the bales isn’t up to standard, we’ll replace them. A lot of people might buy 100 bales of hay from a local farmer and when they go to use them, after putting them in the shed, they might be musty.

With Hayden’s Haylage, he explained: “You can go to the local co-op and throw two bags of haylage in the boot; it’s clean and tidy.”

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How it started

The Haydens have always kept horses on their farm and have been making haylage since the late 1980s. Sean explained that the weather had a lot to do with it.

“The first wrappers came out and we used a Welger baler and a Kverneland wrapper. We had grass down for hay and it rained.

“More rain was forecast, so we turned it. We got it dry and we baled it up and said that we’d use it for silage. When we opened it up, it was actually haylage and we started feeding it to the horses.”

As machinery developed, the small square bale wrapper was the beginning of the compact bale of haylage that Hayden’s Haylage sell today.

“In 1997, McHale launched a small square bale wrapper and we bought one. After about 10 years, we had five of those wrappers working.”

Martin told AgriLand that his father manufactured a lot of machinery to speed up the operation and to save on labour.

In addition, the plant was then built in 2009. This saved a lot of labour in the field, as the round bales could be brought in and stacked a lot quicker than the small squares.

Grass

The majority of the grass sown for the haylage business is Italian ryegrass. Grass is reseeded every three years to ensure good quality and high yields.

Reseeding is usually carried out with a direct drill. Most of the haylage is produced from grass on the family farm, but some is grown on rented land. At present, two local farmers also grow grass for the business.

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“At the moment, we’re taking some grass from other farmers. We hope to do more of this in the future. If the grass is good quality, we’ll bale it and buy it by the bale.”

The haylage process

Timing is very important in the haylage business. If it’s time to bale, it must be done. Grass is cut, turned and left season for two-to-three days – depending on the weather.

Baling is carried out with a McHale baler and the grass is chopped. This makes it easier to finely chop the haylage going into the small bale before bagging.

We have a very small window for baling. If it’s fit at 6:00pm, you go and bale it; if it gets too dry, its no good and you’re defeating the purpose.

“We bring the bales back to the yard to wrap them. We don’t wrap them in the field, as the stubble might puncture the bales and result in mould. We stack them and leave them in the bales for at least two months.”

As orders come in, the 4X4 bales of haylage are taken out of the stack and are put through the bagging plant.

The 4X4 bale is broken up before travelling up the conveyor belt to the weigh cell. Following weighing, the haylage goes through a stationery baler and is then bagged, sealed and palletised.

The Haydens also have a beef enterprise. If they are unhappy with the quality of the haylage, they can feed it to their own cattle.

“We’d often have a batch of bales that we’d bring into the plant and, when we open the bales, they’re not up to standard. We won’t put them through the plant. We’ll use them for our own cattle and there’s no grass wasted.”

Martin explained that the bad weather and the fodder crisis are also hitting the business. This year, they missed out on a second cut of haylage due to the bad weather and are now down in supply as a result.

“We had one good week at the end of June. After that, we couldn’t get two days together.

“This year coming, we’re hoping to cut the haylage early in the season and use the second cut for our own cattle. We’ll up the acreage for June and we won’t have a second cut of haylage.

The first cut is much better quality and has a higher yield than the second cut.

Ned stated that more people are looking for haylage this year due to the bad weather.

“We’re getting more customers this year, but we’re trying to supply our regulars first and they need more as well this year.”

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Plans for the future

There is plenty of demand for the product, but Ned explained that they would be cautious about expanding the business.

It’s better to get to a certain stage, keep the quality up to standard and keep our suppliers happy.

“When people start using it, they won’t go back to hay. They can cut back on concentrates using this as well,” he added.