To supplement three JCB telehandlers, one Devonshire hay and straw merchant opted for a brace of JCB Fastrac 4220’s carrying colour-coded Quicke 6M loaders. Geoff Ashcroft finds out if the investment has proved worthwhile.
For many, a JCB Fastrac equipped with a front-end loader might not seem like a natural choice, but for Exmoor Hay and Straw the combination is an ideal solution.
Saul Kidston says his approach to buying kit is based around logistics and productivity.
“If it makes life easy, cost-effective and productive, then it gets a look-in. We want as much as we can from as few people as we can – efficiency is key for our business.”
The business based near South Molton, Devon, is one that spends its harvest period working throughout Wiltshire and Hampshire, buying straw in the swath.
A contractor provides three big balers to string-up 32,000 straw bales per year, with extra work coming with hay and timber haulage.
“Timber is one of Devon’s commodities that can be easily exported from the south west,” he says.
“It gets my fleet of six lorries and drag-trailers up-country, so they can bring back high quality hay and straw from around the country for our customers.”
Each harvest, the team heads East, pushing across Wiltshire and Hampshire for its regular customers, chasing straw in the swath. And helping to get the job done is a pair of JCB Fastrac 4220 tractors complete with Quicke 6M loaders.
“Putting a loader on a 220hp tractor adds an extra dimension,” says Mr Kidston.
“It takes reliance away from our telehandlers, and means straw carting on wet days can be done without additional labour and equipment.”
While both Fastracs operate primarily with Arcusin bale chasers, bale handling and trailer loading is also on the radar.
“We run three Loadalls for straw stacking,” he says.
“Two are nine metre machines, and one has a 7m lift height.”
Happy with the performance of the Loadalls, it was concluded that the firm’s Fastracs could also be useful to the business. Mr Kidston says: “The Fastracs were bought primarily for their high level of operator comfort, and on that aspect alone, they deliver.
“Comfort overrides pretty-much everything else when you are spending long days in the cab, chasing bales. Though they really should be 300hp to be properly on top of the job.
“When climbing steeper banks with loaded trailers and progress slows, you have to stop the tractor to engage low range,” he says.
“When you get back up to 30kph, you have got to stop again to shift back into high range. This is where extra power would come in handy, to help keep the wheels turning.”
Mr Kidston says in an ideal world he probably should have opted for Fendt 828 tractors equipped with loaders. But cost became a factor, which could not be over-looked.
“And it would have meant buying 3,000-hour Fendt 828’s to get the cost inline with a new Fastrac,” he says.
“So I bought one Fastrac new, and one ex-demo, and they have been superb.”
About to start their third harvest, the two-year-old tractors have clocked 1,200 and 1,700 hours respectively, and still have the balance of a five-year/4,000-hour warranty remaining. He reckons the extended warranty gives peace of mind and should add value at trade-in, which is planned at four years of age.
“These tractors will have done no heavy cultivations work, just bale chasing, haulage and some loader work, and so far they have been totally reliable,” he says.
“They work for 600-650 hours every summer, and while it is hard work, I expect them to be 100 per cent available during that period.”
Dealer servicing is key, and getting back-up and support when away from home, is equally as important.
“We do have access to some good dealers,” he says.
“RSM Beare is our local outfit, and Oakes Brothers take care of us when away. It works well.”
The loaders are said to be easy enough to fit and remove from the tractors, and controllability of the loaders is good, using Quicke’s joystick.
“It would have been better to put the loader controls through the JCB joystick, but we were told it could not be done,” says Mr Kidston.
“But it is not a problem to our experienced operators.”
More of a challenge is the task of swapping attachments using the JCB Q-Fit carriage.
“Our tractors do not often switch between attachments in the same way that telehandlers do, and it is just as well given the line of sight to the headstock,” he says.
“You cannot see down to the ground from the cab, and this is hopeless.
“But as a supplementary loader-tractor, it has become a very useful combination that offers speed and comfort for the main task – chasing bales. When the team cannot chase bales, having a loader available for each tractor lets one operator move bales from the headland stack onto a 45 foot trailer, and back to a yard for unloading.”
His tri-axle bale trailers are handled using twin-axle dollies, which boost stability. Fully air-braked, he says safety and stopping capability is good.
“With a twin-axle dolly, the front corner of these trailers simply does not move when nipping through a gateway fully loaded,” he says.
“The twin axles soak up any undulations, where a single axle dolly would scare you. And we have seven axles for braking.”
Bales are stacked eight high in-field from the firm’s Arcusin bale chasers, and to make the most of productivity, each Fastrac’s Quicke 6M loader carries an MX Manubal grab, capable of handling up to four big bales.
Bales are either moved by Fastrac and trailer, or lorry and drag. And to improve versatility with European hauliers seeking a back-load with a curtain side trailer, one grab has been cut-down to allow bales to be placed three-high, inside a trailer for export.
“It is all about speed and efficiency,” he says.
“The three-bale grab suits covered trailers, but it needs care when lifting four bales off an eight-bale stack. It would not be so bad if the Fastrac’s front axle suspension was not so generous with its movement.”
He says that despite a 900kg deck weight on the back of the Fastracs, and a front-axle lock for the suspension, handling four bales at a time does make the rear axle go surprisingly light.
“Our previous loader tractors were Deere 7530 and 6210R models,” he says.
“The 6210R was out of its depth, while the 7530 was nigh-on perfect. It was so stable, and if it lifted a rear wheel, the colour did not drain from your face. The Fastracs are an entirely different proposition.
“We should probably put a three-tonne block on the rear linkage,” he adds.
“But we do ask a lot from our equipment. For a farm wanting an occasional loader tractor, they would be ideal, with plenty of speed and power. If you wanted to handle two bales on a spike, with 1t of ballast on the rear, they would be unshakeable.”
As a bale handling solution, the ability to fit a loader onto the high-speed Fastrac is ticking many boxes for Saul Kidston and his team at Exmoor Hay and Straw.
“We will probably have another, but it would only need to come with the loader brackets next time,” he says.
“The amount of work these loaders have done means they will easily work through a change of tractor.”