Looking to improve comfort and convenience when scraping out cubicle sheds, one Somerset dairy farmer opted for JCB’s 403 compact loader, adding a range of attachments to make the most of the compact materials handling solution. Geoff Ashcroft reports.
As scraper tractors go, a John Deere 5070M was a big step-up in comfort for Somerset dairy farmer Wayne House, which took over from a pair of ageing Ford and Massey Ferguson tractors.
Yet despite the comfort and convenience of such a luxurious scraper tractor, it was an ongoing back and neck problem that prompted a rethink on scraping duties. “Having to twist around in the seat and look behind to see what you are doing was not easy, and a bad neck simply exaggerated the problem,” recalls Mr House, who produces organic milk from a 160-cow herd near Wincanton, Somerset.
“Being a four-wheel drive tractor did not help with manoeuvrability, either,” he says. “It was clumsy in the smaller buildings and around feed troughs, and this made me rethink how we clean our passageways.”
His eureka moment was found – like so many others – on the internet, after researching front-mounted yard scrapers. “I saw what I was looking for in a video, where a Welsh farmer was cleaning up using a JCB compact loader,” he says. “With a scraper carried on the headstock, muck was always being pushed.
“The loader was much smaller and narrower than my tractor, and with pivot steering it seemed very agile around the buildings,” he says. “This improved visibility, comfort and more importantly, the loader was not constantly running through heaps of slurry before it was pushed into a collecting pit, and that meant kit was staying cleaner. It was just what I was looking for.”
The farm is no stranger to a pivot steer chassis, as a larger JCB TM320S is used for heavier lifting and loading tasks, but is simply unsuitable for access into cubicles and around smaller buildings. So a demonstration from local JCB dealer Smarts Agricultural quickly followed and a deal was done.
Powered by a Kubota engine, the 403 uses ZF mechanical axles, driven using a Bosch Rexroth hydrostatic transmission offering two speeds; high and low. Mechanical axles, in preference to independent wheel motors, allow optional locking differentials to be specified, delivering equal drive to all four wheels.
Costing about two-thirds of the cost of the JD5070M, the new JCB403 arrived on farm a year ago. The challenge of getting the Browns reversible 1.85m-wide yard scraper on the headstock required a further investment of about £600 in a Taylor Attachments coupling frame, allowing an A-frame to be used.
“I did not want to chop anything around, just in case we ever needed to put the scraper on a tractor,” he says. “But it has proved to be a great solution, and with slotted holes in the Taylor Attachment linkage, the scraper now floats, rather than being weighed down. This has also extended the working life of the scraper rubbers.”
He says that with the yard scraper being much wider than the loader, there is more room to work with the JCB 403. “Tyres do not rub against cubicle edges or walls, and being a narrow machine, it is easy to wriggle into tight spaces and around obstacles.”
Since the 403 arrived on farm, Mr House and his team continue to find additional attachments to make daily chores easier and more efficient. While the 403 has a third service for a grab, the need for a continuous oil flow to run a powered attachment meant an extra hydraulic line was fitted to provide auxiliary flow.
“We had been sweeping the edge of the cubicle mats with a broom, but have since added a Sutton hydraulic sweeper to the JCB,” he says. “It takes just minutes to sweep through all the cubicles, instead of half an hour of hard labour.”
And the convenience does not stop there. The farm also has a Shelbourne Reynolds cubicle bedder that has been adapted to fit the loader to apply a mix of lime and sawdust onto cow mats. “It is a lot easier to use on the loader than carrying it on a tractor’s three-point linkage,” he says. “And it can be placed into corners, if needed.”
The farm has also added a muck grab and bucket to simplify cleaning out calf pens, while the pallet forks from the larger TM320S will also fit onto the 403’s headstock. “While the compact loader is not a heavy-hitter, if the TM is out working and a lorry turns up at the yard, we can at least unload any pallets,” he says. “It only weighs 2.5 tonnes, though it will just about manage a full-sized pallet of goods.”
Lifting and loading characteristics aside, the farm says that there are a few compromises to be made, when switching to compact equipment. “Access and egress with the 403’s cab is a little tight, though you soon learn a technique of sliding out over the side of the seat,” he says.
“And like all JCB’s we’ve ever had, the heating and ventilation leaves a lot to be desired – windows seem to steam up very easily when the door is closed. It is a good job the cab has a heater, but it is all or nothing,” he says. “You can choose full heat or no heat; or full air flow or no air flow.”
As for operation, Mr House says: “The controllability of the hydrostatic transmission is superb, which is just what you need in tight spaces,” he adds. “While the speed is not needed inside the buildings, it really could do with more power for some of the gradients around our yard.”
However, JCB has recently launched a more powerful version, the 403 Plus, which boasts a 50hp engine and a hydraulic system offering 60 litres/minute. “The newer model could be what we need in future,” he says.
“Though having a low power output does mean this model sips diesel. Where the JD 5070M would burn around 150 litres/week just for scraping out, the 403 uses a tankful – around 45 litres – every six days, and it is now doing so much more than the scraper tractor ever could. We have even used it for clamp rolling up in the eaves, when the indoor pit gets extremely full.”
Engine access is straightforward for daily checks.