Traditionally the domain of the ATV, one Borders shepherding business is finding that the Honda Pioneer side-by-side vehicle fits into the flock well. Jane Carley reports.
Richard Colley and his daughter Hannah will lamb 3,800 Scottish Blackface ewes this spring as a contract shepherding service for Queensbury Farming in Dumfries and Galloway, on more than 6,500 hectares of mountainous grassland spread across seven different hill farms.
Steep slopes and rocky terrain, along with strong winds and heavy winter snow add to the challenges for the shepherds and their flock, which lamb outdoors. In addition, Mr Colley also has 180 tups to care for.
Providing mobility for the business are a fleet of Honda ATV, one of which is fitted with Camso tracks by Queensbury Farming to cope with the most extreme conditions, which this winter included two metre snowdrifts, obscuring landscape features in one undulating field.
Tasks for the ATVs include checking and gathering sheep, taking mineral supplement blocks out to the flocks and transporting feed and equipment in all types of weather. Last year, two new Honda Foreman FM2 ATVs were purchased from local dealer JMT Manufacturing, replacing three older machines.
Mr Colley explains: “We like the Foreman FM2 for its suspension and find these machines particularly stable on steep slopes.
“It is amazing where they will travel, especially with the front differential locked. Compared to earlier machines, the latest models have much better hill climbing ability.
“We use pedal gear change as it is more efficient than an automatic transmission, especially when you are stopping and starting all the time.”
In May 2020, a Honda Pioneer 700-M2 utility vehicle (UTV) was added to the fleet. “We had not really thought about using UTVs, but there are definitely times when being able to carry an additional person would be useful, especially working a long way from home, so we decided to give it a try.”
Mr Colley trialled a diesel-powered UTV first, but found that it was noisy and the vibrations made it uncomfortable. Its lack of power also meant it was slow, reports Mr Colley.
“We could not manage without bikes [ATVs] because of the terrain, but there is definitely a place for a UTV. We have to do a lot of roadwork and it is very useful for that, and the cargo box means it is ideal for taking feed blocks out.”
He points out that, while not being as agile as an ATV, the Pioneer feels very safe travelling up and down steep slopes. “Even on slopes that would challenge the ATVs it keeps going and feels stable and secure. Slowing down as we approach steep downhill gradients allows a low gear to be selected for effective engine braking and reduces reliance on the brakes.”
The petrol engine makes its acceleration better than the diesel versions for work such as gathering sheep. “We are 15 miles or so from the nearest filling station, so just load up with jerry cans so we have got plenty of petrol in stock. Depending on the workload, it will go all day on a tank full.”
The initial specification was for a half-cab for ease of access and greater visibility, but Mr Colley aims to add further creature comforts for lambing. “We found that the snow can get inside the cab and the strong airflow makes it swirl around, even if it is not actually snowing, so we have ordered doors and a heater.
“I am also adding a canopy for the load bay. Though we lamb outside, we need to be able to transport sick animals back to the farm, so along with the trailer it will come in useful for that. The dogs will appreciate it too, as we carry up to six dogs and the canopy will make for a safer ride for them.”
Mr Colley has also fitted a winch and ground anchor which allows him to get out of trouble. “I have been bogged down a couple of times, which is not bad considering the terrain we are on. We have so many boulders, even the ATVs suffer – one has an aluminium skid pan fitted after we took the sump out of it on a rock.”
The Pioneer’s ability to carry more than conventional ATVs has also allowed it to replace the farm’s pick-up, including to work sites a long distance from the base. Mr Colley says its versatility means the team keeps finding additional tasks for it.
“The Foreman 500 ATVs probably have the edge for the most extreme off-road situations, especially in confined working areas, but the Pioneer is not far behind and, although I have many years’ experience using ATVs in challenging terrain, the Pioneer keeps going when I have reached my limits.”
He adds that the back-up from dealer JMT Manufacturing is excellent, and he was pleasantly surprised by the level of technology that helps diagnose any issues. “A fault code was identified by two long bursts and three short bursts of an audible alarm, which apparently is an O2 sensor. It was very quickly sorted by JMT. Although you do not see that many of these UTVs about, they are very well versed in them.”
Stable on slopes
Good for road work
Not as agile as an ATV