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XtraBlatt Issue 02-2021

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FEATURE Michael Höller

FEATURE Michael Höller spent a long time tweaking the various components of the green fodder production process before arriving at his own particular way of producing premium quality hay for horses. Unlike green fodder production for dairy cows, with recreational animals such as horses, the aim is not to produce the richest fodder possible. Since in most cases the horses are not required to do much, they risk gaining weight if the feed intake is too rich. Nevertheless, Michael Höller is a firm believer that horses should have access to fodder at all times. This means that even horses which are not regularly ridden are occupied and good-tempered. You can tell when you go into the paddocks. The horses living in groups are relaxed and approachable. They give visitors a friendly greeting and an inquisitive sniff; some, it seems, even want to whisper in your ear. 2 1 "The horses clearly feel at ease and they know there’s no point in quarrelling over food because the racks are always piled high with fresh hay", explains Michael Höller. Feed intake is controlled using nets laid over the hay racks. The smaller the mesh width, the longer the horses have to "work" for their feed. HERB-RICH GRASS MIXES Highly species-rich grass mixes are the basis for his high-quality horse hay. These grasses have a significantly lower fructan content than standard grass mixes con- taining perennial rye grass, which tend to be used as green folder for dairy and beef cattle – in this case a high sugar content is desirable to accelerate the ensiling process. Weed pressure is surprisingly low, but then, Michael Höller has a very effective weed control strategy; the dreaded dock is kept in check by systematic removal. “If I see a dock plant in one of the fields when I'm out on the tractor, I step down and pull it up”. With his primary focus now to encourage soil life, Michael Höller has abandoned the use of mineral fertilisers in favour of his own method . He has developed a farm-produced compost which he regularly spreads on the fields. "Obviously we have plenty of horse manure, which is mixed with the sawdust we use as bedding", explains Michael Höller. This mixture is regularly brought 1 Ideal for horse hay: Michael Höller uses Krone equipment. 2 He fertilises his grassland with nothing other than compost produced in his own cowshed. 3 Occupied, without eating too much: Nets are used to control feed intake. 4 Colleague Tobias Schäfer is in charge of baling, among other things. into a purpose-built shed on the organic farm where a small herd of cattle is housed. Here cow manure and urine are added to the mix to produce a favourable C/N ratio and speed up the composting process. Michael has invested in a spading machine which is used every day to mix the compost in the shed. Aerating the mix in this way gets oxygen into the compost to accelerate decomposition and further optimise the process. He produces 8-10t of compost per year and hectare which is spread on the fields with a compost spreader. 3 FIRST CUT IS KEY Unlike green fodder production for cows, Michael uses only the first cut of the year to produce hay for his horses. A second cut is taken from some fields, but this is reserved for his cattle. The hay meadows are not mown until the grasses are in flower. "This is when the constituents of the forage are ideal for producing horse hay" explains Michael. However, putting all your efforts into the first cut is inherently risky. Moisture in particular can cause major problems. So five years ago Michael Höller invested in a hay drier for round bales. This means that when harvesting conditions are poor, he is able to achieve the desired moisture content by drying his hay bales in the safety of the barn. However, he only uses the drier if the weather makes it unavoidable. “This is partly because the use of an external heat source to dry the bales is not consistent with our approach to sustainability, and partly because it is a major cost driver", explains Michael. He much prefers to dry his hay by natural means. After mowing, for which Michael uses a mower with conditioner to help dry crop, the grass is left on the field for three to four days and gently turned with a tedder at regular intervals. At night the hay is formed into an overnight swath to achieve the desired moisture content. POWERFUL AND EFFICIENT EQUIPMENT The farm uses Krone equipment for mowing, tedding, raking and finally forming the hay into swaths. They have recently invested in a Comprima round baler, which produces around 1,800 bales per year – a worthwhile investment in Michael's view: “The Comprima with its variable bale chamber is ideal for us because the bales it produces can be dried with optimum efficiency." The time-sensitive nature of hay making means that high-performance machines are required for other stages of the harvest too, 4 such as the trailed rotary tedder in the KWT series, which has a working with of 16m. The effort and attention which Michael invests in the haymaking process is certainly worthwhile. A round bale opened after several months still retains the sweet smell of freshly mown hay. Despite the long storage, the grasses have lost none of their crispness. No wonder that the horses on this farm enjoy the hay so much. Michael Holler's eyes light up as he grabs a handful of hay and holds it to his nose. He sniffs and senses that once again that he has produced a hay that meets his very high standards for this green fodder that is so important for horses. « 38 39