Automatic hitching systems received a boost this week with the news that a second company is to market an automatic implement hitching system.

Though the first full docking system was built by livestock farmer Stan Roberts in Wales, it took several years before Austrian firm Gangl invented and marketed a general-purpose system. Now an Irish company from Co Monaghan called Shanks Engineering has developed a fully fledged system called the Farm Hitch that will be shown for the first time at the Ploughing Championships at Ratheniska, Co Laois, on 24-26 September.

As with many great inventions, the main impetus was practical need. Shanks Engineering’s boss Glenn Cruikshank has a family farm and it was the constant shifting from one implement to another on the farm’s JCB 530-70 that prompted him to look for a better way of doing it.

“I was levelling gravel on a lane we were repairing and needed to change from fertiliser spreader to leveller several times, with all the wrestling with pipes and ptos,” he says. “I got to thinking that in this day and age there has to be an easier way.”

How does it work?

The first step is to extend the hydraulic top link on the Farm Hitch and hook into the two top hooks. Then four wedge-shaped skids automatically centre the attachment on the tractor unit. As you lift the implement and pull in the top link, the pto, hydraulics and lights all couple together at once.

To make this easier, the end of the pto was ground off a bit to allow it to locate itself automatically. Standard female hydraulic couplings are used, too, but with the balls removed – the pressure of the two interlocking halves means they stay sealed. Meanwhile, the spring-loaded electrical connections are similar to those used in vans and cars.

The Farm Hitch comes with two solenoid valves that are controlled from the driver’s seat. At this point you turn a three-way switch from Toplink to Locking Pins. This diverts the oil to two locking rams, which allows you to lock the implement in position using the same hydraulic lever.

Then, once you are happy that the implement is locked in position and your top link is at the right angle, you turn the switch to Implement and the oil is directed to your implement so none of your services are wasted controlling the quick hitch.

The Farm Hitch also has an audible buzzer that sounds constantly when the locking pins are opened. This is a safety feature in case the switch is put in the wrong position while in use or the locking pins were opened by accident.

Shanks Engineering says prices are likely to be about £4,000 for the unit that stays on the tractor and anywhere between £450 and £1,000 for the half that stays on the implement, depending on whether it’s something simple such as a bale grab or more complicated such as a fertiliser spreader. See the Farm Hitch website for details.

Shanks auto-hitch 1

Hooks at the top of the frame (above) locate into the implement end of things (top, right). Hydraulics, pto and electrics hook up automatically.