The best way of ensuring quality winter fodder differs considerably among farms, but for one Shropshire unit, doing it themselves with classic kit is proving an economical and reliable way of harvesting and ensiling grass. Alex Heath reports.
While the biggest and shiniest kit may grab most of the headlines, it is not always needed or wanted on many farms. Testament to this are dairy farmers Pete and Tom Morgan, based at Uffington, Shropshire. The father and son pair have taken silage making in-house, making use of older chopping power, which is not only written off on the books, but also puts a smile on their faces in the process, while ensuring a steady flow of grass comes into the pit.
The tools of choice for the farm are a 1989 Ford 8210 coupled up to a Zedelgem-built New Holland 550 trailed forager, thought to date from the early 1990s. Pete, who pilots the chopping rig, explains: “We bought the tractor eight years ago, as a low houred example in original condition. Since we have had it, we have tidied her up cosmetically and given a few panels a lick of paint, but that is about it. Oh, and the straight piped exhaust.
“The noise she makes is immense, just purring along all day, although after a couple of days in the seat, it is enough. Until next time. I think we will put the standard baffled exhaust back on at some point, but it is a spectacle when she is mowing and chopping.”
The duo drop about 16 hectares per cut, with approximately 12ha cleared each day. The old Ford which has now covered more than 7,250 hours also mows, using a three metre Kuhn trailed mower.
Tom, who works part-time on the farm, is a mechanic for a local dealership and is responsible for buckraking the pit come silage season.
He says: “Silage quality is important for us. We would rather bring the grass in steadily than have the contractors in and be done in a couple of hours. This way, I know every inch of the pit has been well rolled and it has cost us very little to do, other than the fuel used.”
A hired telehandler is responsible for ensiling the grass.
The farm puts 50 cows through the parlour, with cost of production and consequently silage quality a priority. Pete says the tractor was purchased for £7,250; a shrewd investment as the 115hp on tap is sufficient for their needs.
Pete says: “Six years ago, it dropped a valve in the engine, but because they are simple machines it was not a timely or costly fix. You cannot beat these old tractors for reliability and if something does go wrong, a laptop is not required to fix them.”
The chopper was purchased for £8,000 a few years later.
“It too has been very reliable, offering us trouble free chopping," says Pete.
"We aim to do three cuts per year on our farm, so it only really does a weeks’ worth of work each year, but we pull it out the shed, give it a grease round, check and freshen up the knives and off we go chopping."
Pete says the tractor and chopper are well matched.
“The tractor has just enough power to keep the drum spinning all day. We could put a bigger tractor on the front, but then you run the risk of over working it, causing breakdowns, and we have no real need. We are happy at the pace the grass is being picked up, unless it is a very hot day, then we may struggle to pick it up before it gets too dry.
"If the forecast looks hot, we will drop just enough grass for the following day in the evening beforehand, which works fine. The bottom of the swaths still contain enough moisture anyway.”
Grass is not turned or raked up, instead the chopper picks up the individual mower swaths.
“We have considered raking the grass up,” says Pete.
“If we used a 6m rake, I think it would slow her down too much and there would not be much advantage in picking up speed using a single rotor, plus it is another job to have to do.”
The grass harvest is a two-tractor operation; the chopping rig and a neighbour with a 7610 from the same manufacturer who helps ferry the grass.
“He comes and gives us a hand running the grass back to the pit when we are chopping, then when he is chopping, I will go and help him on a trailer,” says Pete.
The system is simple and works well for the farm. The maximum distance back to the pit is about half a mile, leaving just enough time for the 7610 to unhitch the trailer before the chopper has filled the other eight tonne cart. Trailers are towed while filling on the rear of the chopper, negating the need for another man and tractor. Pete says swapping trailers is easy enough, once you get your eye in, and it only takes a few seconds before he is back into the swath and chopping again.
Tom says: “Both machines are now paid for, giving us a very cheap way of collecting grass.
“The only thing we have to worry about is fuel, wearing parts and breakdowns, but touch wood, nothing serious has happened yet and we do not envisage anything going wrong in the near future.”
He also reports the tractor is surprisingly frugal considering it is running for most of the day, topping up its 177-litre tank when the team breaks for the afternoon milking.
The pair are confident the system is right for them.
Tom says: “We could not justify running newer kit which runs the risk of costly breakdowns that requires a main dealer to fix.
“We are also doing it when we want to, and not beholden to contractors who would do our acreage too quick – we would question if the pit is well enough consolidated, if they were interested in such a small parcel. Not to mention the fees they would charge.
“Overall, this system is simple and reliable and firing the 8210 up puts a smile on everyone’s faces, which is just as important,” he adds.