Favouring timeliness and spreading quality, one livestock farmer has taken back control over his muck spreading. Geoff Ashcroft reports...
From the 60 hectare Cheddarmarsh Farm in Stogumber, Jonathan Moorhouse produces high quality meat from his herd of award-winning Cato Poll Hereford cattle.
As president of the Hereford Cattle Society, he has high standards to maintain, and his attention to detail is one that cascades down through every aspect of his farming operation.
So much so that even muck spreading has come under close scrutiny for the Somerset-based livestock producer.
“We had been using a contractor for our muck spreading, but decided to take back control of spreading so we could further improve the utilisation of manures on our land,” he explains.
“While contractors are efficient, we found an element of compromise came from them wanting to get the job done quickly and move on.”
Deciding on a suitable spreader was not such an easy decision. Tractor power was a limitation, as are the steeply rolling fields that surround the all-grass farm.
“A high capacity, single-axle spreader was out of the question,” he explains. “We wanted to find a machine that could create a fine, even spread to minimise any lumps dropping out of the back of the spreader.
“A fine, well-pulverised spread pattern would also let us get back on our fields for grazing much sooner. We also wanted a stable machine with a low-profile body that could ride safely on slopes.
“And finally, we had to consider our existing tractor power,” he says. “We do not have a large, high-powered tractor, and that also determined the size of the spreader, so the tractor could remain comfortably in control.”
With a 110hp Hurlimann XT110 as a key influencer, the farm turned to local Metal-Fach supplier Wayne Field of W Field Agricultural Engineering and Services, based at Bleadon near Weston-Super-Mare. And a deal was done for a Metal-Fach N267/1 spreader.
The smallest in a range of spreaders that extends to an 18 tonne capacity twin axle machine, the N267/1 uses a 5.8 cubic metre capacity body offering a modest six tonne payload. Importantly, its weight is spread over two axles, and carried on 400-60/15.5 tyres.
Unladen weight of the spreader is 3,150kg, and overall height to the top of the body is just 2.67m.
When it comes to spreading equipment, the hydraulically driven moving floor conveyor is fully adjustable, and supplies material to four vertical rear beaters, equipped with bolt-on reversible tips.
He says that with hydraulic bed control, applications can be thinly spread to improve absorption rates and uptake by the crop.
Stockman and machine operator John Richmond reckons the spreader can throw manures to a width of about 12 metres.
“We do not want to see a black, mucky carpet over our grass,” says Mr Richmond. “If you can see the muck afterwards, then we have put it on too thick. It needs to be barely noticeable.
“It travels well behind the tractor, and treads lightly too,” he says. “We are really pleased with its characteristics.”
Though Mr Richmond says that the spreader’s biggest asset is also its biggest downfall.
“While the tandem axle does spread weight and its floats well, as the body empties and the weight of muck moves over the back of the spreader, the tandem axle pivot does mean weight soon comes off the tractor’s drawbar,” he says.
“As long as you are aware, then you adjust your driving accordingly. For example, you do not want to finish off spreading while climbing a steep slope.”
He says that loading techniques can counter this too, and the preference is not to put a large amount of manure at the front of the spreader.
“Depending on field size and ground conditions, we do not have to fill the spreader to a point where you cannot get any more in.”
This sympathetic tactic is one that highlights the team’s desire to do any job to the best of their ability, rather than chasing productivity.
Mr Moorhouse says; “It is quite a departure from the usual 10 and 12 tonne spreaders that populate the market, but it is an ideal size for us. Our spreader is proving to be a cost-effective purchase with low ground pressure, and it is also helping us to cut down on bought-in fertilisers.”
This considered approach to spreading has meant the farm bought only eight tonnes of artificial fertilisers for the 2019 season, reducing input costs at Cheddarmarsh Farm.
“While top dressing gives a sudden flush of grass, its effect can be short lived. Our light soils do dry out, and this is where farm yard manure offers a better feed,” says Mr Moorhouse.
“There is plenty of fibrous content given the amount of straw we use, and the slow release characteristics of muck also helps to prolong our grazing season.”
He says that such an approach provides the farm with a good quality sward for high dry matter, round baled silage. Each year, the farm makes about 550 silage bales, and buys a similar number of round and square straw bales from neighbouring growers.
“We do consume a fair bit of straw, which does keep our cattle clean while housed over-winter,” he says.
“During winter, we scrape the passageways every day, and store muck in a covered yard, which lets us spread when the time is right. We are not forced to spread simply because storage space might become tight – we have plenty of storage.”
He says that the importance of muck cannot be over-estimated. When it comes to grazing, the farm’s 50-cow suckler herd with followers are put out in groups of 20, and kept on the move to keep grass healthy while pursuing liveweight gains.
With grass quality in mind, the farm does reseed but prefers a spring-sown ley with clover and hybrid kale mixed-in.
“By spring sowing, we can avoid many of the pests and bugs that are prevalent in the autumn, and with kale as a nurse crop, we can shield the grass during its establishment,” he says.
“After strip-grazing the kale, we can push the crop forward for a cut of silage.
“Ours is a very traditional approach, but it is one that works very well here at Cheddarmarsh Farm,” he says. “And spreading manures little and often, is a process that is paying off.”
What is Metal-Fach?
Polish machinery manufacturer Metal-Fach was founded in 1989, and currently employs about 800 staff.
In addition to agricultural machinery, the firm also manufactures a range of semi-trailers for road transport under the Nova brand, it produces central heating boilers and its steel structures division in involved in the design and build of industrial buildings.
Its agricultural equipment range includes round balers, wrappers, muck spreaders, feeder wagons, trailers, ploughs, cultivators and tractor-loaders. Key products from the range that are suited to the UK market are imported and distributed by Zetor UK and available through its network of dealers.
Model: Metal Fach N267/1
Payload: 6 tonnes/5.8 cubic metres
Running gear: Tandem rocking beam axles
Spreading unit: four vertical beaters
Power requirement: from 80hp
List price: £16,327 plus VAT