Until earlier this year, one farm in Gloucestershire had maintained an all-blue theme for 47 years, and mixes a fleet of classics with current tractors. Geoff Ashcroft reports...
Mike Sainsbury has a real passion for Ford tractors. By his own admission, it is something of a drug that has been drip-fed for many years.
He says: “We have had Ford and New Holland tractors on the farm for 47 years – from 5000s, 7000s, 7610s, 8340s, TMs and 60 Series.
“Some we should never have sold, but others we were glad to see the back of.”
Trading as R.P. Sainsbury and Sons from Lyegrove Farm, near Badminton, Gloucestershire, the Sainsbury family runs an all organic farm, comprising a 250-cow dairy herd on 445 hectares.
Currently, the farm operates two frontline tractors for the lion’s share of field work, for which a New Holland T7.230 and a Valtra T234 get top honours.
The Valtra is the first with integrated GPS auto-steering guidance and is also the first non-Ford tractor to arrive on the farm for decades.
“We have been piling on the hours and frontline kit covers about 1,400 hours/year, with the second tractor clocking 800-1,000 hours,” he says.
“Until this year, the 8970A has been that second tractor. It still handles our six-string BB1290 baler.”
The 2002-model Buhler-built machine arrived in 2017, replacing a T7040 AutoCommand tractor.
Originally from France, the 8,000-hour 8970A has been used to support the T7.230 on a variety of field tasks, including cultivations with a five-metre Vaderstad Topdown and drilling with a 4m Kuhn power harrow and Accord drill.
“Despite the super steer front axle, it is anything but a yard tractor. This is a tractor for wide open spaces,” says Mr Sainsbury.
“And while it came with a front linkage, I added the front pto to improve its use. A front tank with split hopper for the drill is something I would like to try for peas and barley, undersown with grass seed.”
The 240hp machine has been fettled to 270hp, and has also had considerable sums of money thrown at the rear end to sort out clutch pack and brake issues.
The 8970A is joined by a pair of Super Q-cabbed Fords: a 1990 model Ford 7810 Force II rated at 100hp; and a 1988 TW-35 Force II rated at 186hp.
“We had a 7810 years ago and that was one of those tractors we should not have sold,” he says. “So in 2011, I found this one.”
Equipped with four doubleacting spools, air conditioning and a pick-up hitch, the 7810 arrived with 9,000 hours on its clock and has only seen a further 2,000 hours added in eight years.
“We are now at a stage where there is not a great deal we can do with the 7810,” he says. “Even our trailers can be a challenge for it, but it is going to stay.”
The TW-35 though, was one of those aspirational tractors Mr Sainsbury used to look up to as a youngster.
“Owning a TW-35 is something which has stemmed from my childhood. There was something special about the 35,” he says.
“In its day, it was a beast of a tractor, and I guess it still is. But modern kit now comes with so many creature comforts that a few hours in one of these reminds you why tractors needed to be fitted with front axle suspension and better cab comfort.”
Bought in 2014, for what Mr Sainsbury describes as the right money, along with a number of known faults which needed to be addressed, the TW has had its dual power rebuilt, a clutch replaced and a Laforge front linkage installed.
However, the hunt for a front pto continues. Its clock shows 6,000 hours, though Mr Sainsbury suspects it is on its second time around.
“The TW is a solid performer, and is generous with its power, but the wear and tear on pedals for example, suggests it has done plenty of work,” he adds.
“It will enjoy an easy retirement here at Lyegrove Farm.
“These older tractors are cheap horsepower and great for a shortterm fix or as a fill-in when something else breaks down, but I would not want to rely on them for everyday work,” he says.
“The constant mesh gearbox is not something you want to work through on a regular basis. And the thump of a big baler’s plunger will also wear you down – on a tractor with suspension, a lot of that movement is absorbed.”
The TW-35 arrived without front linkage, and Mr Sainsbury sourced one through Laforge, complete with bracing bar that runs beneath the tractor.
Being an import, the TW carries a continental hitch, making life awkward during the initial installation.
“I also had to remove three of the Ford’s belly weights, but the weight of the linkage more than made up for what we took off,” he says. “It is an easy tractor to run on the fourrotor rake.”
Cropping is mixed, but centres on high quality forage production with lucerne and red clovers, for the 9,000-litre dairy herd.
Pea and barley wholecrop mixes add to the forage mix. Spring oats grown for milling are complemented by a small acreage of contract work for neighbouring farms.
In search of cost-effective harvesting, he has recently traded up from a New Holland TX62 with a 5.2m header, to a TX66 with a 7.6m cut.
“The sooner we can finish harvest, the more time we have for stale seedbeds and flushing out weeds and volunteers, ahead of drilling,” he says.
“And with a fleet of older tractors at our disposal, we have options for reduced running costs.”
When it comes to silage, the farm takes five cuts, mowing little and often.
“It is about quality not quantity, and without applying fertilisers or sprays, we have to get everything right, including the timing,” he says.
A front/rear-disc mower combination puts down the rows, and until recently, a Claas Liner four-rotor rake has been sweeping it together.
“Our silage quality has suffered a lot through stone contamination from our Cotswold soils,” he says.
“But since we swapped to a Kuhn Merge Maxx 902, a three-belt model, we have improved our forage quality enormously.
“And last year’s silage quality saw the herd average rise by about 500 litres/cow.”
While forage duties are managed by a local contractor with two forage wagons, the clamp is handled by a JCB TM310S. It is supported on yard duties by a 2001-model TM150 equipped with a Quicke loader.
“We bought the TM new, and it now has 11,500 hours under its belt,” says Mr Sainsbury.
“It has been a great tractor. We tried water ballast in the rear wheels, but swapped to rear wheel weights to add stability and it has also improved the TM’s effectiveness when rolling the clamp.”
Operating older tractors does come with a warning, though.
“There are challenges with running classic tractors within a modern fleet, but there is safety in numbers,” he says.
“Things do not always go as smoothly as you like, and many dealer technicians just do not know anything about older kit. They expect to plug a laptop in and it tells them what to fix.
“Finding time to handle the inevitable breakdown is always a cause for frustration," he says.
“This is where more modern tractors have the edge, but it does come at a cost.
“But there is something very rewarding about turning the ignition key and getting a puff of black smoke, and an engine note that says ’let’s go’" he adds.
“Modern tractors really need a bit of old school charisma, without sacrificing their conveniences.”