Looking for a safer means of emptying lagoons while boosting output, one Devon contractor has opted for the Walrus pumping unit from Wox Agri Services. Geoff Ashcroft reports.
The task of pumping slurry from a wide variety of towers and lagoons is one that has continued to challenge Totnes, Devon-based Millman Contractors. But a break-through development in pumping systems by Wox Agri Services has created a safer and more efficient solution that has improved productivity for the family-run general contracting business.
“We apply about 120-130,000 cubes each year, on a wide variety of farms around south Devon,” explains Paul Millman, who spends the winter months at the helm of a Fendt 724 carrying a 12m dribble bar and double hose reels.
“In between maize harvesting and maize planting, I apply slurry using the dribble bar,” he says. “And that time in the cab gives you a lot of opportunity to think about how you can improve what you are doing. It is fair to say that the changes we have recently made have doubled our output.”
The majority of slurry pumping is for dairy customers, but with fewer and fewer herds in the area, the business is now travelling further afield. And this is an aspect that makes it all the more important to be self-sufficient, and with enough kit to meet almost any on-farm slurry pumping requirement.
“What we have found is that lagoons and below-ground stores present a much greater challenge than above-ground stores,” he says. “The prospect of standing on the bank of a lagoon, attempting to man-handle at least 12m of suction hose into a pit, is not the safest way of working.
“It is a job that nobody wants to do, but it is an integral part of the process for pumping slurry.”
The answer he was looking for came in the guise of Wox Agri Services’ latest tractor-mounted pumping station, the Walrus. Launched at the 2020 Lamma Show, this high-capacity, pto-driven set has several innovative features to meet the needs of drag-hose contractors.
“Geoffrey Wox came to visit us last autumn with drawings of his latest pumping unit, and I really liked the idea of the 9m, hydraulic folding feeder arm,” says Mr Millman. “I could see how this was going to change the way we operate.
“We can also attach a further 5m of suction hose on the end of the feeder arm, and from the comfort of the tractor cab, just use the hydraulics to position the feeder arm and hose into any lagoon or pit,” he says. “It is such a safe and stable process, and importantly, is one that avoids the need to manually wrestle hoses into a slurry lagoon.
“Towers are less of a problem, and the feeder arm just unfolds over the top of the tank, and away we go.”
The Walrus also includes a hydraulically-driven primer pump to lift material up to the charge pump, before liquid is forced into the main pump. It is a layout said by Wox Agri Services to prevent any issues with priming, cavitation or run-dry scenarios.
A direct-drive gearbox connection to a 4NHTB Cornell slurry pump affords greater working flexibility, and is suitable for tractor power ranging from 180-325hp. In addition, the Walrus includes a built-in jetter which can be used for slurry agitation, and its nozzle can be adjusted hydraulically using tractor hydraulics. And a built-in pressure washer simplifies cleaning when the time comes to pack up and move to the next job.
“The jetter is a particularly useful addition to the Walrus pump,” says Mr Millman. “We visit a lot of pits that are equipped with a liner, and you cannot drop a traditional stirrer into the slurry. The Walrus pumps and circulates slurry back through a hydraulically controlled jetter nozzle, which lets us stir into corners and easily liquify a lot of slurry, very easily. The whole system is fuss-free.”
Millman Contractors first moved over to Wox equipment about five years ago, when looking for a front-mounted hose reel. “At the time, we were looking for more output without having to run two teams,” he says. “And over the last few years Geoffrey Wox has helped us to progress from four inch pipe, to five inch and we are now running mostly six inch hose, along with some seven and a quarter hose.”
“Going bigger has reduced our operating costs,” he says. “We have increased flow, lowered pressures, and boosted output. But it has also meant a new way of charging for our services – it is no longer viable to cost the job on an hourly rate, so the introduction of Krohne flow meters on kit means we now charge based on the volumes we pump.
“The lower pressure means less stress, lower fuel burnt, and extended hose life – we are just not wearing out kit like we used to.”
Mr Millman also has praise for the Shug lay-flat hose couplings, also supplied by Wox Agri Services. “We have simplified set-up and dismantling by using better couplings,” he says. “They are universal rather than male-female, and they do clamp extremely well. We have never had one fail, and are well-worth the extra money. Though we have replaced the lynch-pins that secure each clamp ring, with a nut and bolt.”
The Walrus is currently handled by a New Holland T7.270, which is much more suited to transporting the 3.6 tonne Walrus, than the Millmans’ Fendt 720 and lower powered T7 tractors. A Schouten Tornado front-mounted pto-driven compressor now provides more than enough air to clean the large-bore pipes, on the longest runs.
Typically, Mr Millman goes out to farms carrying two reels, each with 1,000m of hose. The 12m dribble bar handles the bulk of the workload, while a home-built dual outlet splash plate and a grassland injector are also on-hand. “We can push slurry over 2,000 metres with the Walrus,” he adds.
“We do operate on a lot of rolling land, and our previous Doda system would need a second pump putting in the line to reach 2,000 metres,” he adds. “But the additional investment in kit has enabled us to operate a second slurry team when the pressure is on to start lowering lagoon levels.”
Depending on the terrain and field size – the latter range from two to 40 acres in size – daily output is around 1,500 cubes. “We do lose a lot of time crossing roads and changing fields, and 200-250 cubes/hour is a good average with the dribble bar system,” says Mr Millman.
So far, Millman Contractors has applied about 40,000cu.m with the Walrus unit, and it has recently gone back to Wox for some updates. “I am very pleased with the performance and also the backup we get,” says Mr Millman. “A change of impellor is now on the cards to improve its ability to deal with more fibrous slurries, and while I appreciate it is not cheap kit by any stretch, it is proving to be good quality and importantly it works.”