John Cradock has been a county council tenant at Redhill Farm near Shaftesbury, Dorset, for 13 years. The farm”s 21ha (52acres) support 45 dairy cows plus followers.
Ten years ago, a similar-sized holding might have supported a family, now it is a struggle. As a result, Mr Cradock has had to look to other sources of income.
“It became obvious that a unit of our size would no longer pay the bills and if we wanted to continue we would have to take on other work,” he says.
“Every minute I spend at home needs to be productive. When I come out at 5am I need to be able to jump on a tractor and get on with the scraping up and feeding round.”
“I don”t have the time to mess about trying to get old machinery going.”
However, that presents a problem. On a unit of this size, it is difficult to justify investment in new machinery. But two years ago, with a fleet made up of a 45-year-old International 275 and an ageing Massey Ferguson 590, reliability was increasingly becoming an issue.
“Knowing that we couldn”t afford a new machine, we looked around for some decent second-hand loader tractors but found that most had clocked up too many hours,” he says.
“So it was back to the drawing board. Couldn”t we really justify a new small tractor? The answer was clear. Our finances just couldn”t stretch to it.”
Mr Cradock turned his attention towards the budget end of the market. Having stumbled across Indian TAFE tractors, he discovered that a new machine was not completely out of the question.
The company offered him a new 4WD 47hp tractor fitted with loader for just over 16,000. Having decided that perhaps it was worth stretching the budget to this, a TAFE 45DI arrived on the farm in May 2003.
“The main deciding factor was the extra reliability. But almost as importantly it was down to safety.
“Working in muck and slurry, brakes are particularly susceptible to failure. But because the TAFE has in-board oil-immersed disc brakes, it”s not a problem.”
As a new machine, its low initial cost proved a real attraction. Working on a 15-year depreciation period, Mr Cradock is able to write the tractor off at a rate of just over 1000 a year and he expects the tractor to last far longer than that.
Another factor which helped to clinch the deal was the tractor”s parentage. “The tractor”s design has a proven pedigree. It is based on the Massey Ferguson 250, which gives me a lot of confidence. You still see 25-year-old examples working day in, day out, all year round.”
Over the past 18 months, the 45DI has clocked up 800 hours, spending most of its time scraping yards and feeding stock.
As the farm”s main workhorse, it is also responsible for muck spreading, hedge cutting, rolling and baling during the hay making season. Fuel consumption has remained frugal for even the most power-hungry tasks.
“It”s not thirsty. In an eight-hour working day it won”t burn any more than 40 litres of diesel.
“It”s also been reliable. A hydraulic diverter valve for the loader was faulty, but it was easily replaced. In fact, anything is easy to repair because it uses all basic mechanical controls. There are no electrics.”
“The few niggles that we”ve had have been easy enough to sort out on farm, but so far everything”s been covered by the warranty.”
The two-year warranty is valid no matter who services the tractor, giving the opportunity for some significant savings in maintenance costs.
“I can do the servicing on farm, which means that at each 200-hour interval it only costs me 25 in oil and filters,” says Mr Cradock.
“If we keep that up then hopefully it should keep going for another 30-odd years, just like the tractors it has replaced.”