Ewe can rely on this Royal contractor

A Meath sheep farmer began his silage contracting enterprise 35 years ago and builds on it annualy to keep up with demand

Pictured (l-r) are Cathal Swan, his wife Julie, their son Shane and David Hogan, Agri Manager at Drummonds Ltd.
Pictured (l-r) are Cathal Swan, his wife Julie, their son Shane and David Hogan, Agri Manager at Drummonds Ltd.

Derek Casey

Cathal Swan, his wife Julie and their son Shane farm at Skyrne, close to Tara in Co Meath.

The Swans have a flock of 600 Texel x Suffolk ewes and sell their lambs to Irish Country Meats in Navan. It is a progressive operation with lambs sold per ewe averaging around 1.9. Lambing takes place in mid-January and the ewes are fed on haylage and McCauley's sheep ration. Many of the ewes have more than two lambs, so extra lambs are either fostered by other ewes or reared on Lamlac ewe milk replacer.

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A completely different side of the business sees Cathal and Shane manage Swan Agri Ltd, a successful family silage contracting enterprise which was established 35 years ago in 1984 after Cathal finished his education. So how do they get time to run a busy sheep enterprise and a contracting business at the same time? According to Cathal, it is only possible because of the way the two sides of the business complement each other.

"We actually find the sheep rearing enterprise nicely dovetails with the agri contracting business which is less busy in the spring time," says Cathal. "We are able to bring in additional help around busy times of the season such as lambing time in spring or during silage harvesting. We have a few drivers that we would have back each year and who are reliable which is invaluable. We would also have some relatives who chip in with work when needed."

During the summer holidays you will often find that one of the team's tractor drivers is an off-duty Aer Lingus passenger jet pilot. Surely there can be no argument about the skill level of this driver? "No, in fairness, but that particular driver usually insists on getting one of the newer tractors!" laughs Cathal.

Swan Agri offers a complete silage contracting service for local cattle, dairy and sheep farmers. They also have some equine customers for whom they make good quality haylage. In terms of pit silage harvesting, the Swans use a 2005-registered John Deere 7400 silage harvester. This machine was purchased second-hand three years ago and represented their first foray into the self-propelled market, having previously used trailed harvesters up until that point.

A new butterfly mower was bought this year in order to respond faster to customer demand.
A new butterfly mower was bought this year in order to respond faster to customer demand.

"The difference in output has been remarkable," says Cathal. "Compared to when I started out it is frightening the acreage that you can get through now in the space of a couple of hours with the right gear. The trailed harvesters were good in their day but they could also be quite temperamental."

This year Swan Agri is charging a competitive €90 plus VAT per acre for pit silage.

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The Swans spread slurry and manure for local farmers in their surrounding areas. Their slurry spreading machinery includes an NC tanker fitted with a trailing shoe as well as a Major slurry tanker. They also have a new K two spreader for this season for muck spreading that adds to the existing Hi Spec muck spreader in the fleet. Another service sees hedge cutting offered for local farmers and other customers in the Meath and Dunshauglin areas. This particular service helps to create work at a time of year which is traditionally quieter on the farm.

Impressive fleet

Tractors in the impressive fleet include five John Deeres ranging from almost new to 11 years old, all being very well kept. The newest in the fleet is a 181-registered 6155R, and the oldest is a 2008-registered 6530. All of the tractors are bought from Meath Farm Machinery, the local John Deere dealer who comes in for good praise for their service back-up.

Cathal's son Shane served his time as a mechanic with Meath Farm Machinery in the past and the links between both have endured. This training also means Shane is able to maintain and service some of the machinery during off season or during quiet periods in the business.

Around 10000 bales of silage are made each year thanks in part to a McHale Fusion 3 Plus.
Around 10000 bales of silage are made each year thanks in part to a McHale Fusion 3 Plus.

On the baling front, the Swans run a McHale F5500 round baler for baling 3-4,000 bales of hay and straw annually along with a McHale Fusion 3 plus for making about 10,000 bales of grass silage each season. The balers were bought from Mid Louth Farm Machinery, another local dealer who comes in for praise for good back-up support.

On the recommendation of David Hogan, Agri Manager with Drummonds Ltd, Cathal agreed to try the Silotite Pro bale film system last year. He found there was a very good tack on this film. Farmers using the Film and Film system know there is an extra cost of about €1.50 per bale but they feel it is good value for the quality of silage dry matter they get when the bale is opened. The system is cleaner on the operator when it comes to bale opening time as well because you don't have to separate the plastic and bale wrap; both can be recycled together as they are made from the same base material.

To improve the nutritional value of his haylage used for sheep, Cathal has a bulk tank mounted on a front-end loader fitted with a dribble bar which can add molasses to the bales before wrapping. Some of his sheep farmer silage customers also avail of this service. For this season baling is charged at €9.50 plus VAT per bale including plastic (24 layers).

Other forage machinery includes two John Deere mowers as well as Claas and Kverneland tedders. A couple of new additions to the fleet this year include a butterfly John Deere R950R mower that was bought to be able to respond to customer demand more quickly, as well as a Class 2700 Liner rake purchased from Leinster Farm Machinery.

"I could get a call from a customer on the morning or the night before they want silage mown," explains Cathal. "With the new machinery we should be able to get to customers faster and mow at a time of day that leads to better wilting and silage quality for the farmer."

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