Making hay for over 35 years has given Wyreema farmer Warren Folker a better understanding of what the market wants and how to cater to it.
Mr Folker grows forage sorghum and oats, both to feed his beef breeding cattle and to make thousands of saleable large round bales and small square bales a year.
“A lot of them [buyers] buy hay for their show cattle and for the sales, and the horse industry of course, but they’re more into the cereal hay. There are a lot of hobby farms as well. We do send some to the feedlot industry too,” he said.
“It’s a good base here – close enough to Toowoomba for the backyarders.
“It’s a lot of work with the small bales but I’ve got a good customer base with them now. There’s still a lot of people who chase the small square bales.”
Mr Folker, who runs 138-hectare property Kilowen with his wife Kaylene, said his best marketing strategy was to focus on quality, which was linked to the planting rate, cutting height and hybrid choice.
“I plant at a rate of about 12-13 pounds to the acre (13.5-14.5kg/ha), so the size of the stalk is very small and there’s a lot more leaf.
“The best cutting height is around 1-1.5m, but it’s a lot bigger this time because of the rain we had.
“It gets brittle the higher it goes, so you may sacrifice bulk, but quality is what you are looking for.”
Mr Folker plants trials regularly, pitting varieties against each other, and hosts field days to share the results with the industry.
In the 2016-17 summer, he planted six varieties on January 9, including hybrids across the Sudan, sweet sorghum and brown midrib range.
He said the most outstanding varieties were Sugargraze, Superdan 2 and BMR Octane.
“Sugargraze has the sweetest stalk which is perfect for beef cattle, Superdan has a finer stem which converts to great hay and Octane has that palatability and digestibility combination that helps weight gain and milk production.”
The paddock was fallowed seven months out of forage sorghum and received 86kg/ha of urea pre-plant and 75kg/ha of Starter Z at-plant.
Mr Folker seeded with a 511 International 20-run combine on 18cm rows.
His next move was to employ the help of contractor, John Gersekowski, on April 7 to cut it into small pieces about 30cm long, which he said made it more palatable.
“I normally do it with my own sickle bar hay conditioner, but a disc bine does a better job. It chops it up into smaller pieces and smashes it, so the dry down time is a lot shorter.
“Also with the disc bine, it chops up a lot finer, a lot smaller, which makes it a lot more palatable for the cattle and horse industry and they’ll eat every little bit of it up.
“I’ll leave this lay for probably 24-48 hours then I’ll go over it with a hay tedder, which scatters it right across the ground – that makes the dry down time a lot better. I’ll then re-tedder it in another two days’ time.
“Then hopefully it will be ready for raking. In seven to ten days it’s ready to bale, depending on moisture.”
The crop was then baled with a New Holland 317 small square baler and a 4×4 Lely round baler, ready for sale across the Darling Downs.
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Image: Warren Folker unloads square bales at his farm