Now in its 34th year of business, Scally silage is what this industry is all about, operating out of Killucan, Co. Westmeath.
It is here that father and son duo, Sean and Paul, share the running of the substantial silage outfit, as well as a groundworks and steel enterprise, all trading under RKC Agri.
“We are actually not farmers, just all-out contractors,”, Sean said.
“We call the silage side ‘Scally Silage’, but it all trades under RKC Agri,” Sean explained.
How it all began:
Scally silage came to fruition 34 years ago this year, after Sean’s father, Paul, had been working for Lyons and Burton from the age of 17 as a mechanic, before joining his brother Mick’s contracting firm.
“Around 1985 the Uncle was a baling contractor…A lot of lads were going for hay and not silage that year. So then Dad got into the silage with a double-chop that year and he has never looked back.”, Sean explained.
“He was a fitter as such and that was his break into the machinery trade…This is actually our 34th season this year,” he added.
This is where Paul got the idea to set up his own contracting business, with the sole focus on pit silage. Because of this, Sean has been around tractors and machinery for the majority of his 23-years, meaning his progression into the family business was always intentional and among one of his life plans.
If running a contracting firm were not enough, Sean’s father Paul also runs a groundworks and steel works side of the business, meaning time is of the essence. Most of the construction and groundworks jobs are based in the Dublin area, while Paul carries out most of the mechanical maintenance work on any of the company’s machine.
Sean’s move into contracting:
Sean, having always wanted to get into the family business, first decided to continue his education to enable him to work with the construction industry.
This led to Sean heading to Nui Galway in order to study a construction and project management degree, which he completed two years ago.
“I always had full intentions of going back home at some stage, but I went and did my own thing for a few years first.”, he said.
“We have a construction company as well and you need to have some sort of background to get into that now…In order to run the construction and silage, I had to go and do a few years of the engineering side of things myself,”, he added.
Since completing his third level education, Sean went onto gain employment with an engineering firm, where he has been employed for the past two years. This means time is spread between his fulltime employment and contracting duties, with the majority of his contracting chores carried out in the evenings and weekends, weather-dependent.
“I’m out on site during the week with the engineering company, then I help out with the contracting at home in the evenings or at the weekends,”, he noted.
It’s not often that this is the case, but the Scally’s main port of business on the contracting side of things is nearly all pit silage. Sean admits they do carry out other tasks, such as maize and miscanthus harvesting and the occasional dung spreading and drainage work, though their primary focus is pit silage.
“We do all pit silage…We got a new harvester in 2016 and it is all pit work we do,”, he said.
“We do the odd bit of drainage as well, which is handy with having the diggers…We try to stay as close to the silage as we can, but we wouldn’t turn any job away either…We are capable of doing any job and have the machinery to do most jobs, but silage is our main calling,”, he admits.
With the groundworks and steel company running side-by-side with ‘Scally Silage’, the number of workers can vary from between 45 and 50 ‘all-in’. On the contracting end, this means there is generally up to 10 people on the go during the busy harvest season.
“Between the construction and silage during peak season, you could have anywhere between 45 and 50 people,”, he said.
“On the AG side of things, we would have a max of 15 lads. We pull from the same pool of lads, we might have some lads who were out in the diggers earlier in the day, who then jump into the tractor for the evening…We manage with the staff we have, managing hours to try and do as much as we can in a week or two in June. Then we try and keep the rest of the work to the weekends if we can at all,” he added.
Silage-wise, the father and son duo aim to harvest anything between 2,500-3,000 acres every summer.
“We try to get a new trailer or machine every year to try and keep them fairly fresh,”
“We came to the conclusion that we needed to invest in machinery to do the work. You could have a bad summer and have only two weeks to get a month’s work done. You can’t afford to have breakdowns. Nowadays you have to present well, show up well and do a good job,”, he added.
The father and son team are currently running with a complete fleet of Claas tractors, with five in total. They had formerly had other brands in the past, though made the switch to Claas and couldn’t be happier. They have no intentions of going back on their choice anytime soon.
“We had other tractors over the years, some great ones…We had one tractor that gave us awful trouble. We got a Claas then and never looked back. They are a great tractor and don’t give us much trouble. To be fair to Leinster farm machinery, we get a good service from them. We buy most of our machinery there.”, he explained.
Tractors - 2010 Claas 630, 2014 Claas 650, 2015 Claas 640, 2016 Claas Axion 850 and a 2018 Claas 800. 2012 John Deere 6830. 2017 Claas 810.
Grass - 2016 Class Jaguar 860 harvester. Two front Claas disco 3200, rear mowers- 1 disco contour 3200 and 1 disco contour 9200. Claas liner 2900 rake.
Silage trailers, tanker and Dumpers - 2 20FT Braughan trailers, with one 22FT Braughan, 2 18FT Ruscons, Two 20FT Braughan dump trailers, One 18T Herron dump trailer. 2050 Major tank.
Diggers - 17 in total, from one tonne to 22 tonnes (Mainly Hitachi and one or two Komatau).
The plan is for the silage operations to continue on its current trajectory, with no major shake-up in the pipeline.
As mentioned above, they have a new 22ft Braughan silage trailer on the way in the coming week, while they only recently purchased the Claas 800 a few weeks ago. This is expected to be the height of upgrades done in 2018, though Sean says there are butterfly mowers due to arrive this weekend first.
“Apart from that, we have no major plans to buy anything else...Silage-wise, the outfit is tidy enough where it is at,”, he said.
“In fairness, it is up there with some of the best outfits around. There are not too many that would keep up with the quality and standard of it…It’s a credit to Dad, who worked his way up from a mechanic in a factory the silage operation we have now,”, he added.
Why he keeps contracting:
Sean keeps doing his job with pride, just as his father does, as it is all he has ever known. He noted that the diesel price hike does not make their job any easier, though looks at it with the utmost positivity.
“It's amazing to think that Donal Trump can affect the silage too,”, Sean joked.
To put it simply, he loves the satisfaction gained in a job well-done, not to mention providing their loyal and trusted customer base with the top-drawer service they have now come to expect. This is another reason he keeps doing what he does, as he says the majority of their clientele are local farmers and friends of the family.
“Most of our customers are local and we know them well, so there would always be a bit of craic…We have some great loyal customers…They know what they are getting with us and they stick around for that and a big thank you to them for that,”, he noted.
For Sean’s father, silage was always seen as more of a hobby, rather than a job. This is something which has been passed on from his father and means Sean thoroughly enjoys his choice of profession.
“It followed through into me and I just have a love for machinery too.”, he said.
It may be a natural progression for most contractor’s sons to follow the path laid by their father, but for Sean and the Scally’s it is more of a way of life. Real contractors through and through, who give meaning to the phrase ‘mad for grass’. Silage-mad, they will continue making waves in the Lake County for the forseeable future.
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Pictures Eddie Gaffney and Adrian Leach