Hay and haylage products that are used in places as distant as the Middle East and Asia – and fed to animals as exotic as giraffes, rhinos and hippos – are produced by an innovative farm firm in Kildare.
Robinson Farms, based in Maynooth, Co. Kildare, is a large producer of dust-free forage for the world equine market – but has customers in other areas also across the world.
Speaking to Agriland about his operation, David Robinson – who runs the firm with his father Peter – said that their products consist mainly of hay, haylage and their own bagged Equihayage brand.
Explaining their company’s journey over the years, David said:
“In the beginning my father Peter grew a lot of hay in the ’80s – all small square bales for local stud farms,” he said.
“Drying the hay in the sheds with fans, this gave him the experience and knowledge of what exactly performance horses needed.”
Over the years, Peter travelled to the US, where he encountered the VEDA hay dryer – a machine that dries large bales straight off the field from 25% – 10% moisture eliminating mould and dust spores and preventing the bales from heating.
Taking the plunge, Peter bought one such machine in the 1990s – with three units in use on their farm today – where they are used to dry more than 500ac of hay in big square bales.
On this, David said:
“These dryers are definitely the best investment we have made as we can produce high quality hay in difficult weather. We are the European agents for Veda.”
As farming practices changed over the years, the Robinsons kept up with the change. As wrapped silage and haylage became popular in Ireland, the family started to grow a lot of rye grass haylage.
This was baled into large square bales to supply bigger yards and stables.
However, taking this a step further, the family’s company operates a packaging plant, which repacks haylage and hay in 20kg bags for sale to shops, co-ops and other customers around the world.
In terms of what countries, the firm supplies, David said:
“Our main market is Ireland where we supply a lot of shops and yards [but] over the past 10 years we have started to export to Europe and further to Asia and the middle east.”
Highlighting that this side of things has grown year-on-year, he added:
“Ireland really has an excellent track record with horse breeding and other countries really try to replicate what the Irish have achieved – [and] so copy the best using Irish feeds.”
Asked what animals their product is destined for, the Kildare man said:
“Depending on the location we mainly feed horses but we have fed: rabbits; camels; giraffes; elephants; rhinos; and hippos.”
Moving up to the past year, and the challenges it presented with Covid-19 and Brexit, David said:
“To be honest Brexit hasn’t really affected us yet as we only trade with the UK on a small scale; the paperwork is a pain but gets easier as time goes on. I think in 2022 we will definitely see bigger changes affecting us all.
“During Covid-19 we didn’t have to stop which was great for our sanity and to be able to carry on during the restrictions made things a little easier.
” Our sales obviously dropped as race meetings and competitions were cancelled, but I think something as big is out of anyone’s control so just deal with what’s put in front of you.
“As we couldn’t have office staff during Covid we started to use Kendlebell, an answering service, which took all our calls and sent us texts with details of orders etc. This took a lot of pressure off so we could focus on deliveries and other jobs.”
Asked whether the unusual growing season witnessed this year had any impact on operations, he said:
“This 2021 season has been the best I’ve seen for production – the weather was ideal and we were lucky our cutting dates landed spot on with the weather.
“Even now at the end of September we are cutting and baling silage as the grass is growing quicker than the sheep can eat it.”
Finally, asked if Robinson Farms has any plans for the year ahead, David said:
“I think with fertiliser and plastic prises on the rise we will really need to be careful.
“We are always on the lookout for new technology so will hopefully make a few purchases during the winter,” he concluded.