A vintage baling day was recently held in Co Longford, to mark the 40th anniversary of round bale silage in Ireland – and also to highlight how it has revolutionised since it was first introduced back in the 1980s.

Micheál Reilly of Moyne, organiser of the event spent his youth helping out neighbouring farmers and contractors before setting out contract baling, a service he has now provided for the past 25 years.

The concept of round bale silage was pioneered in counties Cavan, Longford and Leitrim.

With three of the original contractors that took on balers still alive, Micheál felt that they should be given recognition for their role in introducing the concept to Irish farmers.

The bales were placed in original Volac Feeds Ltd bale bags.

Former chief executive of Lakeland Dairies, Michael Hanley was at the event, where he outlined his involvement in the introduction of round bale silage. His first job after college was round bale silage co-ordinator with Lakeland Dairies, where he held the responsibility of conserving grass silage into bag silage.

In 1982, it was predominately hay which was made as winter feeding for livestock, but as the weather became more unreliable, something different had to be done and so the concept of ensiled grass was introduced where bales were placed in bags – which then evolved to wrapping in order to make grass silage. The main goal was to ensure cows were fed more top-quality fodder, which in turn would result in more milk produced on-farm. This has transpired into how many small and large farmers make their winter fodder.

Gerry McGarry with his TS90 and John Deere 545 belt baler. \ Claire Nash

The first baling contractors

Killeshandra Co-op, McCormack Products Killeshandra and Volac were the companies that originally invested in the idea to have five balers operating across the three counties. Tommy Kiernan in Killeshandra, Gerard Hourican in Arva, Richard Monaghan in Granard, Noel McDermott in Ballyconnell, along with Oliver Masterson and Sean Kavanagh in Leitrim, were the contractors that took on the balers and headed out on the country for hire.

Baling began with belt balers and bags, which was aimed at part-time farmers – with vermin proving a serious issue, along with farmers tying the bags incorrectly, which resulted in poor quality silage. Round baling has been a tremendous success over the past 40 years, being a weather-proof system of making top-quality, ensiled grass in the form of big bales.

Former CEO of Lakeland Dairies Michael Hanley, outlining his role as Big Bale Co-ordinator with Lakeland in 1982. \ Claire Nash

Oldest baling contractor in Ireland

Oliver Masterson from Carrigallen, Co Leitrim, was present at the event and is one of Ireland’s oldest baling contractors, as he began his baling career in 1982. Oliver put to work his original setup of a 165 Massey Ferguson along with a PZ Zweegers Roball 1512, which is a sister machine to the original Farmhand 804 which he operated back in the 1980s. Oliver set out baling with Sean Kavanagh in 1982, when he was then approached by Michael Hanley to take on the Arva baler in 1983.

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Oliver outlined that the bagging of the bales was also part of the baling service provided at the time, where a front-loader was used to put on the bags, with the bales then being stacked.

Once again, Oliver highlighted the vermin issue associated with bagged silage, as traps and bait had to be used to try and prevent an infestation of mice. The bale wrapper reduced this issue, when it followed three years later and replaced bale bags.

The PZ Zweegers Roball 1512 in action. \ Claire Nash

James Kiernan, John McKiernan, Michael Hanley, Sean Kavanagh, John Masterson, Oliver Masterson. \ Claire Nash

The PZ Zweegers Roball 1512 baler at work. \ Claire Nash

It took the wet years of 1985 and 1986 for round bales to take off. Farmers were sceptical of making round bales of hay, as they believed it needed to be much drier than what was required to make small, square bales. Oliver recalled how a farmer allowed him to make 10 round bales of hay as an experiment, to see if it was possible to conserve hay that way.

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There was a superb turnout at the event. Gerry McGarry from Gortletteragh, Co Leitrim, also baled with his New Holland TS90 along with a John Deere 545 belt baler; while Padraig McDermott from Mullahoran, Co Cavan, showed how balers have revolutionised, as he took to the field with his John Deere 6920 along with a Claas Rollant 455 Uniwrap combi baler.

To complete the baling demo, the bales were bagged using original Volac Feeds Ltd bale bags, where Michael Hanley demonstrated the many mistakes farmers made while tying the bags around the bales.

Micheál made a presentation on the day to Michael Hanley for his involvement in introducing round baling to Ireland; to Oliver Masterson on being the oldest baling contractor in the country; as well as Bernard Morris, who is a long-serving customer of Micheál’s in his 25 years.

There was great turnout at the event on Saturday afternoon. \ Claire Nash

Oliver Masterson is Ireland's oldest baling contractor. \ Claire Nash

Padraig McDermott from Mullahoran, Co Cavan, worked his John Deere 6920 along with a Claas Rollant 455 Uniwrap combi baler, to show how balers have revolutionised the industry.

Oliver Masterson's Massey Ferguson 165, along with the sister baler to the Farmhand 804, he started contracting with. \ Claire Nash