Donegal is a county of breathtaking beauty, and lots of weather unconducive to working in fields in the winter. Even in the summer conditions can be discouragingly soft underfoot.

Yet farmers are adaptable people and finding solutions to the challenges to working in the wet in the northwest, and it comes as second nature to many of them.

Beef, sheep and contracting

One such grower is Roland Cassidy of Killybegs, who runs a suckler herd and sheep on farm just a few miles from the town.

Roland Cassidy Donegal
Roland Cassidy with son, Calum, who shares his Father’s passion for Massey Fergusons

Like many in the area, his land is a mix of fertile valley ground bounded by hills and slopes. While it is possible to raise cattle on the former, the poorly drained upper areas are good for little more than sheep.

Machinery suitable for these conditions must tread carefully if the fields are not be ruined by ruts and invaded by rushes, it must also be reasonably compact if the fields are to be accessed at all.

Tankers slurry wide tyres
Wide tyres for soft ground in the hills of Donegal

Rolland also runs a contracting business with a fleet of nicely kept Massey Fergusons, a trio of slurry tankers, a hedge cutter and a small silage outfit which keeps him busy during the season.

All the tankers, and his baler, are run on the widest tyres available to help keep them above ground in wetter years or when an unexpected patch of bog is encountered.

The tankers are not particularly large, weight being one consideration while the other is the need to get them into small yards. Even so, many farms are cleared within a dozen loads or so.

Adapting the digger

He also has a 7.5t Kolbelco digger which was originally bought to improve the drainage on the holding. It seemed something of a shame to have this standing around idly so it has been pressed into service as a bale handler in the yard.

The inspiration behind this adaption was the fact that he found himself storing bales on ground which would get easily cut up even with only light traffic.

Kobelco diggerin yard
Fitting the Flemming soft hands onto the Kolbelco SX75SR digger takes only a minute or two

Roland’s idea was to take the low ground pressure digger into the field and have it pass the bales out to the yard where a JCB Loadall will take them to the cattle.

The conversion was simple enough, a Euro hitch was made up to fit the the digger arm for the Fleming soft hand bale handler, and other attachments that would normally be found on a front end loader.

JCB Loadall
The Tanco Silage Shear effortlessly cuts the bale and separates the plastic and netting from the silage

Having made it up and started the winter feeding season with it Roland is delighted in how quickly and easily the combination can swing a bale out of the field and onto the yard ready for his Loadall, fitted with a Tanco bale shear, to deliver it to the feed barriers.

Quick and easy feeding

With these two machines which are, like the farm, kept in pristine condition feeding is a matter of minutes with no ruts in the field or mud being brought into the yard.

Yet, he has other plans for it during the summer, as it will be ideal for loading the bale wrapper which he has purchased, alongside a McHale F5500 baler, for his own silage.

A Massey man to the core

There is no doubting where Roland’s royalties lie when it comes to tractor brands as there is a neat line of Massey Fergusons parked out in front of the machinery shed, and all are spotlessly clean.

Massey fergusons killybegs
Ready for next season, the Larger tractors in Roland’s fleet

He has particular praise for the engines and looks to them as being good all round workhorses, a .bread and butter tractor. that gets the job done in an area where there aren’t the field sizes or the intensity of farming to justify more expensive marques.

Donegal opting for bales

Round bale silage is increasingly displacing pit silage in his area due mainly to the flexibility of the system for small farms.

Fields can be cut when and where it suits rather than saving excess forage up for one or two big cuts a year, and it is this he sees as a major advantage.

Small fields silage bales
Small fields are a hallmark of the area and storage space is at a premium

Looking forward, he can see that machines are going to have to become quicker and more efficient while still remaining small in size as finding the right drivers is not getting any easier.

There are, apparently, a good number of younger lads wanting to drive, but in the wet and hilly conditions of Donegal a little bit of restraint and wisdom is required to keep operations safe, and that isn’t always present.