Farm Ireland

Friday 24 November 2017

Offering an alternative to kingdom contracting

In the challenging soils of Co Kerry, one contractor puts out his services to grassland farmersOffering an alternative to kingdom contracting

John O'Donovan and one of his workers show off the Lely 725 seven-metre rake
John O'Donovan and one of his workers show off the Lely 725 seven-metre rake
John O'Donovan and one of his workers show off the Lely 725 seven-metre rake

Bruce Lett

Venturing into contracting about 10 years ago, John O'Donovan, from Madamshill near Killarney, Co Kerry, now provides several services from silage to slurry and more for farmers in the surrounding area. John and his wife, Marie, run their contracting business alongside their dairy farming enterprise, milking around 70 cows on their farm.

"There is very little tillage down here, some in North Kerry alright, but farming is mostly drystock and dairying in this part of Kerry," said John. "A lot of the country is hilly around here but we are used to managing it. It's a technique in itself."

Some of this terrain, according to John, "would be stony, gravely country which would have great soakage". This soil structure has good load-carrying capabilities, but John still uses low ground-pressure tyres on his equipment to "minimise compaction because compaction restricts growth".


"There was a lot of work done this year, catching up on the previous two years," said John. The good overall weather this year was also reflected in the Kingdom, which, as John said, "was a good year on growth and grass, ideal for reseeding and there was a lot of reseeding to be done". This provides its own challenge in some of the gravelly areas. Well used to the terrain, though, John offers an additional contracting service to overcome the 'stony' problem.

Where reseeding is required in these gravely areas, John can provide a stone-raking service in addition to ploughing and power harrowing/drilling. Using a Kverneland stone rake, he can comb stones of around two inches or more in diameter out of the ground.

"Work rates vary from place to place depending on conditions, so we charge by the hour for this service," John said. A down side to the gravely conditions, though, is that it is very abrasive -- as John said, it is "hard on wear on the plough, power harrow and everything [that engages the ground]".

Silage baling and wrapping is one of the main services that John provides. Mowing is with two trailed 3m Kuhn mowers, one equipped with a grouper. All the baling and wrapping is done with a McHale Fusion combination baler wrapper.

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"The Fusion is a good machine. We have had it a while and have had no big trouble with it. Just general wear and tear," said John. Raking up for the baler is a Lely 725, 7m rake. "We had a single rotor rake but couldn't get over the ground quick enough," he said.

"With the Lely rake, after the crop has wilted, we put two or three rows into one. We make 13,000-14,000 bales a year."

These are usually loaded, drawn in and stacked by a "couple of excellent lads that work this end of the operation".


Broadening his contracting operation and moving into pit silage, John bought a Strautmann silage wagon last year but said: "We haven't too much done with it yet, most pit silage is still cut with the self-propelled harvester." He adds, though, that this side of the business is developing and "people are moving over" to his new service.

John runs a fleet of five older 6 and 7 Series' John Deere tractors, declaring: "We like them and are kind of used to them.

"Generally, we can predict if we are going to have a [mechanical] problem with one of them."

A freelance mechanic keeps on top of any problems in the fleet. "A local lad does the repairs for us, he is on call 24/7 and gives a great service. If a tractor is stopped, then a man and the work is stopped. We have to keep our customers, the farmers, happy and keep all the machines going," added John.

On this year, John said: "It was a good year. A year that was well needed for the farmers. Of the previous two years in the Kingdom, John said: "Weather was a big problem. Conditions were sticky and it was difficult to get the crop dry, sometimes it was like harvesting water," he said. "The silage quality is reduced if it is wet and heavy like that.

"The price of milk determines a lot down here. At the moment, it is heading the right way and lads are not under as much pressure. Last year, farmers were selling milk for 22c/l, which is under the cost of production."

For next year, John said: "It's hard to know what is coming down the tracks at us, especially the way the country is going at the moment."

Irish Independent

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