Utility vehicles are becoming key workhorses for many stock farmers. But is a petrol version a viable option to keep ahead of the flock?
Jane Carley reports...
With 650 improved Welsh Mountain breeding ewes and 150 ewe lambs managed as a hefted flock, husband and wife Glyn and Sue Morgan have plenty of running around to do at Blaen Myddfai, near Felindre, South Wales.
The couple also has 50 suckler cows and, in addition to their 126-hectare hill farm, runs a 32ha holding in West Wales on a Farm Business Tenancy.
Mr Morgan says: “We graze on common land and lamb outside, and until recently got about on a Honda quad and in a Land Rover.
“But 10 years ago we bought our first side by side vehicle, a Yamaha Rhino, to give more load capacity.
“We carry water and ferry materials to places that would not be accessible otherwise, and having an enclosed cab to sit in to keep an eye on a lambing ewe is more pleasant for Sue than sitting in a quad trailer.”
With the Rhino no longer available, the Morgans began to look for a replacement, and with a Honda 400 ATV still on the farm, were keen to try out the company’s new Pioneer 700 side by side.
With a bench seat up front, the two-seater Pioneer can accommodate three at a squeeze, while the load bed makes for easier transport of bales and dogs than a quad.
“But there is a lot less mess in the field in wet weather than a 4x4 would make,” adds Mrs Morgan.
Working with dealers JG Plant, the Morgans secured the first Pioneer to be sold in the UK and were able to make small tweaks.
“The Perspex windscreen got scratched by the wipers catching on mud thrown up on it and then went cloudy, so it was replaced with glass,” says Mrs Morgan.
“We also requested half doors on the cab which give some protection from mud and water, but make it easy to jump in and out when handling stock.”
Mr Morgan praises the flat load bed, which sits clear of the wheel arches, allowing 10 supplement cake buckets to be carried, although he concedes that it is slightly higher than on the Rhino as a result.
“The younger dogs can jump in, but the older one needs a hand,” he says.
Spring-assisted manual tip makes for easy emptying of loose materials, he adds.
Towing performance is also key, and the Pioneer pulls a ‘snacker’ and ATV trailer well, he says. It is also fully road approved.
Generous ground clearance and plenty of suspension travel handles the hilly ground and rutty tracks well, he says.
Mrs Morgan says: “Although it is a bit taller than the Rhino, it still feels very stable and I think a lot of that is down to the wishbone suspension.”
The Pioneer tackles most tasks in two-wheel drive, with four-wheel drive only really needed for wet conditions, he says.
“I was concerned about the lack of a low box, but the three-speed automatic transmission stays low if it is under load. I find the sensors very good in that respect,” he adds.
“The engine braking is also effective and I never feel like it is running away down a hill.”
One gripe is the F/N/R selector lever, which remains resolutely sticky even after plenty of use.
He concedes that a side by side is obviously less manoeuvrable than a quad, but finds the Pioneer easy to steer considering its width.
Mindful of the easier fuel storage offered, the Morgans tested diesel vehicles before purchasing.
“One thing we need is acceleration to head off the flock and a petrol engine is better for that,” Mr Morgan says.
“We have found there is little difference in fuel consumption from the quad, despite the Pioneer’s larger engine,” he adds, saying that a 20-litre can of petrol lasts a week-and-a-half.
The Pioneer is used day in, day out, all-year-round and will be two years old in March.
“We have had no issues and only expect to spend money on new tyres in 2019,” says Mr Morgan.
Daily checks are easy to carry out, with the oil dipstick under the seat, radiator accessible from the front panel and engine accessed by tipping the bed.
“It is important that mud and water can get away from the machine,” Mr Morgan says.
“They get very dirty and need to be easy to pressure wash. The Rhino got a build-up of mud and when the water gasket went I did not realise and it overheated.”
An annual service before the most intensive work period at lambing gives peace of mind, and Mr Morgan suggests four years is about the right time to trade in such a hard-working machine.
“I would like to swap it before any problems occur. We have already put 500 hours on the Pioneer, so it is earning its keep.”