The story of hay drying in Luxembourg
We run a 130-hectare dairy farm in the south of Luxembourg with 60 Holstein Friesian cows plus their progeny as well as a suckler herd with 45 Limousin suckler cows. We are a family business that is currently in its 13th generation.
The explosion of costs in agriculture that we saw in 2008/09, the 2009 milk crisis with pitiful milk prices, and the subsequent deterioration in the profitability of cash crop farming caused us to seek out alternatives with more and more urgency. I had come to the conclusion that our further business development would need to provide for greater autonomy in terms of feeds and farm equipment. The overall social environment in which agriculture operates, with ever more stringent demands regarding the environment and sustainability, only added to this pressing need – something needed to change!
I found a few interesting internet addresses in an article I read in an agricultural journal in the winter of 2010/11, which then saw me clicking through a number of websites on hay drying quite intensively for some time. I eagerly read everything on hay drying that I could get hold of and soon realised that this was something I was really fascinated by.
In the spring of 2011, I then emailed HSR asking them to provide me with more information about this topic. I soon heard back from them: Sepp Reindl and one of his colleagues visited me in late June 2011 on a motorbike. After a brief tour of our farm, they gave me a recommendation that was even briefer: Listen, you’ll have to get rid of the silo! I heard the message, but it took me a little while to heed it…
I first visited a number of hay drying regions in Austria, southern Germany, France and Switzerland, and eventually also Sepp Reindl’s own farm, which was at the time also where his company, HSR, was headquartered.
I was deeply impressed by the straightforward work processes, the evident health of the dairy cow herds fed with machine-dried hay, the herds’ extremely high forage milk yields and last, but not least, the fragrant, incredibly green hay. The seed for seriously considering transitioning my business to hay farming had been sown.
We were torn between the obvious advantages of hay farming and its still quite exotic image in the Luxembourg agricultural scene, but saw our project grow, little by little. We spent an arduous four years dealing with the red tape of planning and approval processes, but in October 2015 construction works finally started.
We ended up with a hay barn measuring 50 x 21 m with four drying boxes of 200 sqm each for a total of about 8000 m3 hay, and a 10 m wide passageway, half of which was lined with bridge slot perforation sheets to hold a 90 sqm drying box for high-moisture corn.
The HSR plant comprises a 45-kW ventilator and a 77-kW dehumidifier driven by a diesel generator for power supply. The engine heat generated in the process is utilised to warm the air for drying.
We extended our freestall system, which we had installed in 1995, by 39 cubicles for dairy cows and 16 cubicles for heifers at the same time. Since both buildings are connected, hay can now be dropped directly onto the feeding table using a hay crane.
The grassland areas gained by converting our former arable fields are used to produce the additional staple feed needed, i.e. forage and hay. Since we do not use silage corn either, the required feed mass minus grain corn must also be covered from grasslands. All of our herds, except heifers up to six months, continue to go out to pasture from late April to late October.
In May 2017, we were ready to launch our “back to the future” project!
Our first baby steps with hay drying. The insecurity of our early days, when we were first gaining experience, has by now evolved into a sense of ease and confidence. Both hay drying and the drying of grain corn in October proved just as efficient as HSR had promised.
Our first winter season with machine-dried hay was a real eye-opener, as our expected potential was even exceeded. The combination of machine-dried hay and a mixture of crushed dry corn (64%) and feed grain (32%) offered at feeding stations proved to be sensational! The constituents of the milk supplied by us in March reached a monthly average of 3.97% milk protein and 4.73% milk fat, with an increased milk production. We immediately decided to do away with the concentrate we had fed for so many years. An initial estimate of the average daily hay consumption yielded 24–25 kg DS!
Even a glance at our animals indicates substantially improved herd health. Our cows are doubtlessly more content, return to oestrus sooner after lactation and have shown improved fertility. Problems with hoof health have also decreased significantly, and our hoof trimmer noticed only minimal evidence even of strawberry foot rot. Naturally, our veterinary costs have been reduced accordingly.
Converting to hay farming has simplified our workflows significantly, meaning substantially lower wear costs for maintaining the machines we operate on our farm. Feeding technology – i.e. our farm tractor – is not only easy, it also saves enormous time and energy.