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User story: Budget baler helps take control of forage production

Choosing an alternative to big brand machinery has enabled Will and Rob Mitchell to purchase a baler and wrapper for an investment which would normally be required to secure a baler alone. Jane Carley reports.

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The Metal-Fach round baler distributed by Zetor UK makes 1.2m diameter bales and is marketed as a farmer’s machine.

Wanting to take control of baling operations, but not wanting to pay through the nose for a new baling outfit, has led Avon Meadow Farm in the New Forest to source an alternative make of machinery.

The farm is part of the Avon Tyrrell Estate near Christchurch, where father and son Will and Rob Mitchell raise a 150-head suckler herd plus followers, 80 sheep and 300 chickens.

A contract to rear 700-1,000 pigs for BQP, destined for Waitrose, brings in additional income.

Will says: “We make all our own silage and hay, and buy straw off the field.

“The farm totals 120 hectares and we make 1,100 bales of wrapped silage, plus 1,000 of hay, for ourselves; another 500 bales of silage and 1,000 of hay are made for contracts.

“Much of the land is wet and we are often working in small fields, especially for equestrian customers.”

Mr Mitchel bales about 3,600 round hay and silage bales every year.

The Mitchells operated New Holland and Welger balers in the past, then more recently used contractors, but waiting in a contractor queue started to become increasingly tiresome for them, which led them to look for an alternative.

Rob says: “Having mowed our silage, we sometimes found ourselves waiting for contractors because of a breakdown or a job which had taken longer than expected.

“It was hardly worth wrapping by the time they finally turned up.”

Rob says operating their own baler avoids the prospect of a big bill from the contractor at the end of the season.

Following the launch of the Metal-Fach product range at Lamma, imported by Zetor UK, Will spotted the Metal-Fach baler at Dorchester Show in 2013 and liked its simple design.

Metal-Fach Z562 round baler specifications

  • Bale diameter: 1.2metres
  • Bale weights: 100-600kg
  • Pick-up width: 1.8m
  • Binding: Net and twine
  • Tyres: 400/60 R15.5
  • Baler weight: 2,200kg
  • Power requirement: From 50hp
  • Price: £13,771 (non-chopping)

He says: “It was half the price of the big brands and it is nice and basic. If it breaks down, which it very rarely does, we can fix it in-house without expensive service call-outs.”

Rob recalls the most basic of repairs have been able to keep the baler going – a locking bolt on the pick-up’s jockey wheel was replaced in an emergency with a piece of netwrap.

He says: “We simply drilled it out and fitted a split pin, which was just a 20-minute repair. The fixed chamber Z762 baler makes 1.2-metre bales and can apply netwrap or twine.

“This model is not fitted with a chopper, but unusually, comes with the wiring and controls for an additive applicator.”

Will adds: “It is straightforward to operate, quick and efficient. In one very long day, I made 400 bales, but it will comfortably do 200-250 a day.”

He says it makes quality bales in all conditions and is especially good in dry hay.

Rob Mitchel with his father Rob.

“There are some wet spots in the water meadows and the wide tyres are very helpful.”

Daily maintenance is quick and efficient, says Will, with a quick grease and refill of the oil bottle which lubricates chains all that is needed.

A modification was made last winter to separate the rear door operation and pick-up raise, previously on the same spool.

Will says: “I found when the oil was hot, the pick-up would not always come up high enough. Also, if you hit a soft spot in the water meadows, you need to raise it quickly.

“We took the splitter out and added a switch, so we now use one lever for the pick-up and one for the door. But again, the simplicity of the baler meant it was a job we could do in-house.”

In 2015, Rob added the Metal-Fach Z577 wrapper to their fleet.

The performance and reliability of the Metal-Fach baler persuaded the Mitchells to also purchase a wrapper of the same brand.

He says: “The reliability of the baler convinced us to consider the company’s wrappers. For the price of the Metal-Fach wrapper, I was looking at a secondhand machine from any other brand, and a fairly rough one at that.

“This wrapper has an adjustable pick-up arm for different bale sizes and came with a tipper to turn bales, although we collect them fairly promptly, so this is not something we use a lot.”

Rowing up in the morning and wrapping in the afternoon, the Mitchells keep up with the baler in most crop conditions, and Will says it is possible to wrap 25-30 bales/hour.

He says: “It has wrapped 2,000 bales with no issues, not even worn paint.”

Will and Rob accept the machinery is not as heavily built as some, and a few modifications have been needed. The film knife on the wrapper has been welded to beef it up and a bolt inserted to stop the film dispenser slipping down on its shaft.

Will says: “They are clearly not contractor’s machines and would not stand up to the workload, but for a farmer wanting to take control of his own forage operation, Metal-Fach balers and wrappers look like a good investment.

“We can be confident we can go out and do the job at a time which suits us and without downtime. I am not expecting to change the baler or wrapper any time soon, as they are not showing any signs of wear, but I would certainly consider doing the same again.”

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