Cookies & Privacy
November 2010 - Posts - Mud Hound

Mud Hound

The life of a Land Drainage Contractor

November 2010 - Posts


The snow (only a couple of inches here) has put some jobs on hold, but there is always something to do...


Last year it started, this year it continues.


There were, if truth be told some, just some, good reasons why the office had not been decorated for so long. It is a fact that in the long term, perhaps the very long term, we should redevelop our whole site as there is an awful lot of wasted space, and what’s the point in decorating when we are about to move out, but despite the desire the reality is unlikely to happen in the short term. I’m sure that after a while everybody just got used it to and could not be bothered with the upheaval.


Well I guess it is my job to create some upheaval! It took a year or so of nagging, but last winter we painted four rooms ad this year the plan is to match that number. In addition I went to Ikea and brought some picture frames. (I had no choice about where to buying from, mrs mudhound works there! -hmm,  I reckon she would hate that name) Our hallway is now decked out with pictures of drainage machines, A3 and in colour, no short cuts here! Anyway it has been a success, people look at the pictures and comment, and without any doubt the offices is now a better place to work.


Now I’m not claiming that the office is suddenly a cutting edge piece of design, it’s not, but it is now no longer a throwback to the seventies. Progress, slow but definite progress.





As the temperature drops, the winter routine is kicking in.



I have been working on the updates for the web site and a few marketing bits and bobs, but one job has been taking over: Health and Safety. There is always a great deal of negative talk regarding Health and Safety, I imagine that virtual everybody in the country has a story about health and safety gone mad, but there is no avoiding it. I like to think that our methods and the way we work is very safe, our consultant seems to agree, (I should touch wood here right?) but like most companies we need to stay on top of the paperwork. It’s no good saying that this system or that system is in place if you can’t prove it. Rather than moan and fight the system we fall into line and winter is the time to carry out checks on first aid boxes, PAT test electrical items, review method statements, risk assessments and COSHH sheets, write tool box talks and so on. This year we have gone further still, someone has been nominated to attend the NEBOSH general certificate of health and safety....



Yes, you know where this is going...



Every Friday for thirteen weeks I will be at the Warwickshire College on the course. Back to School. I’ll be honest I’m not looking forward to it. I know the course will be useful for the company, I know I will learn something and that it will look good on my CV, but I seriously doubt if many people would actively look forward to such a long course on health and safety.



Hopefully a change is a good as a rest....         




It occurred to me that perhaps the most important question this blog can answer has not been even mentioned in my posts so far. I have talked about design, cost and the machinery used in land drainage, but I have put forward very few reasons why anyone should drain their land. It seems a little silly now that I think about it, surely such a post should have been the first matter of business!


Drainage tends to dominate thoughts when the combine gets stuck and it is certainly the case that well a drained field results in easier access to the land, but the real benefit is in increased yields. Obviously crops do not grow quickly, strongly and disease free in saturated soils. I suspect that people reading this blog will know better than I that crops have an optimum growing range, fussy things that they are, if the temperate is too cold, too hot or the soils are too dry or too wet, they simply refuse to develop. Drainage is about maximising the length of optimum period, and creating conditions which result in the healthiest, strongest and most productive crop as possible


Land drainage has been undertaken in a major way since the agricultural revolution in the 17th century, if not longer, it works effectively enough to have survived for decades but its exact benefit is hard to quantify. All soils profit from drainage, but some profit greater than others. We tend to only get rather unscientific reports from clients who repeatedly employ us about increased in their yields. An average report would be an improvement of over a ton an acre which means if prices remain at £140 per ton, the initial costs can be recovered within seven years (scroll down the view the post on the cost of drainage.) Bearing in mind that drainage will work every minute of every day for a life time or perhaps even longer, its re-payment time is very small indeed. 


Drainage involves upfront costs which are always hard won, and is less visible than a brand new shiny tractor but plant loses its value, whilst drainage continues to serve. This spring I visited a farm which had a couple of fields drained the year before, as I drove towards the farm the drained fields were green with healthy wheat, the fields which had not been done were brown, the crop too small to spot from a distance. The difference is crop establishment could not have been more apparent.         




I have entered some of the photos on the blog for the Farmers Weekly Photograph competition. I have no illusions of winning, but I reckon that some of the photos aren’t too bad and will not be embarrassed by entered the competition.


Digital cameras are fantastic invention, they allow anyone to take decent photos. By following the simple ‘snap as many as possible’ tactic, followed by a bit of basic editing anyone can produce a photo good enough to hang on the wall, although having seen the photos that professional photographers produce I understand that amateurs like me can’t really hold a candle to the pros. I remember the photography that my grandma used to take, with heads or feet missing - one or the other.


I have a tiny Olympus camera - only five megapixels - and I carry it around in the car. Then whenever I’m on site I carrying it around, snapping anything which might make a useful photo. Most of the snaps end up in the recycle bin but it does provide all the photos for this blog, our web site and our marketing material. The photos may not be perfect but they acceptable and there is a cliché about a photo being worth something.....




One of the more unusual pieces of kit we operate is tracked gravel hoppers. Drainage machines are rare enough, but every contractor must have at least one, whilst tracked gravel hoppers tend to be the preserve of contractors who are able to take on larger contracts. I guess that we just sneak into that bracket, although it must be said that we’re not fussy and will happily occupy ourselves small jobs as well!  


Backfilling trenches with gravel greatly enhances the effectiveness of drainage and nearly all drainage machines are fitted with a hopper to catch and guide the gravel down the trench. The gravel needs to be transport from an onsite dump to the drainage machine; this can be done by a tractor and cart. On most jobs the tractor and cart combo work well, but a self propelled tracked hopper as pictured below has a number of advantages



One advantage is the increased volume of stone which can be transported in one go, the less to-ing and frowing the better. In wet conditions a tracked hopper is a much better tool, far less likely to get stuck and causing only shallow ruts.


Having the gravel belt at the front of the machine rather than the side, makes controlling the flow and placement of gravel far easier for the operator. The less gravel spilt on the floor the better, not only is it messy but it’s a terrible waste of money! 




The other great advantage of a tracked hopper is demonstrated when working on slopes. Standard gravel carts have to have a high centre of gravity in order for the belt to reach the hopper on the drainage machine. This is obviously no problem on most fields but caution and slow speed is required when traversing a slope.   


Here is a picture with a tracked hopper backfill behing our 26-15 Mastenbroek trencher




The blog is three months old!


To be honest I’m just glad I have been able to find enough to write about!  

Judging by the number of views each post is getting someone out there is visiting the blog, it might be my mum I suppose....


I hope to continue to make the blog informal and informative, rather than just an advert for Farm Services, which would be dull to read and write. So far at least the blog has not become a chore, in fact it is a welcome addition.


Be warned now the weather has started to turn wintery, you might get a ‘I got soaked to the bone and I’m freezing cold’ angry blog soon....




In a recent a post I talked about how reliable and hard working old clay drains are, and I’m standing by that statement, however the faithful old drain is not indestructible.


We mainly install drains, but, when asked, we are willing and able to repair them. As we don’t have many major earthquakes in the UK the vast majority of blocked drains are caused by tree or hedge roots. Now in days, we always make sure that drains are installed six metres away from hedges and about the same from the canopies of trees or we use solid, un-perforated pipe. The worst offenders are Willows, and for a considerable length of time good practice has been to place drains at least ten metres away from this vigorous tree. Annoyingly even if only a willow stump if left it will continue to grow and the roots will seek out water.


It takes time but over the years roots can completely fill the largest diameter pipework. Even when densely packed, water can often pass by the root invasion, but slit, debris and the rest can’t, so the drain becomes blocked.   The picture below is of a section of root pulled out earlier in the year.




As you can see here the density of root growth is surprising.




This picture gives you can idea of the size of this root.





The recent theme has been all about old existing clay drains and the ‘Museum’, I’m afraid this post is another on that line.


Occasionally, very rarely, we unearth something which is of interest to a real museum. From time to time we work in areas thought to be of historical interest and an archaeologist is drafted in to oversee our works. They stand beside the trench and spend the day, eyes peeled, peering into the gloom of a narrow excavation.  Most of the time a rush of excitement is followed by the realization that the object which caused the enthusiasm, is just another stone.


However perhaps the archaeologist endeavours are not forlorn. In 1980, a bit before my time, we were working in a field not too far from the A5, the old Roman Road known as Walting Street. I don’t think an archaeologist was present when our machine uncovered a number of, clearly very old items; there was glass jars, pieces of bone and a handmade lead pipe. The ‘find’ was report to the Country Council and someone came out to inspect. We had stumbled across what the experts called a rare Romano-British pipe burial (Not that I know what a pipe burial is) and the items found are still in the Warwickshire museum collection.


Perhaps this 'find' has overly encouraged our archaeological imagination, not only do we have our museum as mentioned in the earlier post, but we can get quite excited about things which in the end don’t warrant such a reaction. For example, the picture below.




This was forced to the surface by one of our open trench drainage machine and caused great excitement. Clearly it was a cannon ball, and of considerable significance. We refrained from calling anyone immediately to clear the soil and confirm what we thought. That’s when we saw the stamp. 2Kg. You can just about make it out on the photo below. 




How a shot put ended up in the middle to an agricultural field is perhaps a story worth telling, but I doubt if the British Museum will be calling to make enquiries.







The last post talked about old clay drains and to be honest it was designed to lead on to this post about our ‘Museum’. Be warned, this might not be that interesting to some people.....


From time to time we unearth old drains of unusual design or interest, and we drag them back to the office, clean them up and store them. We call this our museum, although if we charged to view the items I doubt if many would turn up!


As a very special, eh, treat, I have some pictures of our ‘prize’ collection.




As you can see the collection takes pride of place in the gloomy office vestibule, on aging shelves - so old they pre-date Ikea.


They are a vast array of different shapes and designs.







Apparently, so I’m told, at one point clay drainage tiles were untaxed whilst roofing tiles were, so in order to discourage roofers from using drainage pipes as roof tiles, drainage was stamped on each clay tile.




We have many, many more, the office loft is cramped with them, so maybe one day we will open up the museum of land drainage, would anyone visit?????