26 March 1999

Home-built giant is well up to big spread task

The sum of £200,000 spent,

400hp under the bonnet and

25t of muck in the spreader.

One year after its

conception, Andy Collings

went to see how muck-

spreading in the big league

was working out for a Wilts-

based contractor

I WILL always remember the first time I tried out the spreader unit, says Alexander McKie.

"It was fabulous. I had built it from parts supplied by Samson – two spreaders welded together with an added extension – and, to be frank, the company had washed their hands of me. If it worked, so be it; if it didnt, they didnt want to know.

"As it turned out it did work and, further more, after some 200,000t has passed through its four vertical rotors, it is still working."

Mr McKie, who is based at East Chisenbury, Wilts, freely accepts that a 25t capacity, self-propelled muck spreader is not a concept which perhaps meets with every contractors idea of frugal machinery investment. Particularly when it is known that the Horsch TT 351-5 combination cost £200,000.

It was just over a year ago farmers weekly visited Mr McKies premises to see the finishing touches being made to the machine.

The five-wheel, 400hp Vee-8 Merc powered Horsch has hydrostatic drive throughout – the single front steering wheel has its own Poclain wheel hub motor with the other two axles driven from a common motor mounted just to the rear of the middle axle. Drive passes forwards through a three-speed box to a differential and then rearwards to the rear axle.

In operation, Mr McKie can select two, three-, four- or five-wheel drive, on the road only the mid-axle is driven.

"In the field, five wheel drive is the norm," he explains. "Without the powered single steering front wheel working in combination with the steering back axle, turning would be difficult, to say the least. I do not understand how similarly configured machines with an unpowered front wheel can possibly make sensible turns when loaded."

To be fair though, the turning ability of Mr McKies machine has been compromised by an extension to the main frame which moved the back axle further rearwards than is found on standard builds.

Drive to the four sets of slats and vertical beaters in the spreader unit is hydrostatic, each half of the unit is powered by its own hydraulic system.

It is an arrangement which allows precise control of bed and beater speed, a console in the cab displays a digital readout of actual speeds.

"I listen to the sound of the engine," says Mr McKie. "If the engine starts labouring, I just slow the bed chains down a little."

So, after a years operation, what is the verdict?

"The only major problem I had was when the bed chains became tangled, which meant I had to hand-fork 25t of muck out of the hopper, on two occasions. I eventually realised it was caused when I dropped the first fork loads of muck into the hopper, its momentum pushed the slats and chains onto each other.

"The problem was solved for all time when I welded some guide rails into the base of the hopper."

The other half of the McKie muck operation involves the use of a 130hp Case 621BXT 95 articulated wheeled loader fitted out with oversized tyres and rims. Loading time, using a fork assembly that would impress the average buck-rake manufacturer, is usually within the five minute zone.

Spreader unit aside, the Horsch unit appears to have performed well. Apart from a minor fault with a valve which controls the steering synchronisation between front wheel and rear axle, life has been trouble free. "The only criticism I would have is that drive to the wheels can be irregular," he says. "Oil always takes the easiest path and the result is the front wheel can be spinning while the other four are almost stationary. A small problem which, with experience, I can live with."

Still with matters of rubber, Mr McKie concedes that tyres are an expense waiting to happen. At about £3000 a wheel, a new set of tyres is not something to be relished.

"A lot of my work is on the flinty chalklands of the south downs which are less than kind on tyre welfare. The front tyre will be the first to go – possibly this year, and the rest will follow in due course. It could be that I have a worn "summer" set for use when the ground is dry and a newer set for winter use when conditions demand better grip."

But how about the economics of the job, overall?

"I charge by the job, taking in travelling distances and volumes to apply. There are no hard and fast rates," he explains. "Even so, I am happy with the returns, I would expect the machine to pay for itself."

Price aside, Mr McKie believes that the quality of spread and the ability to work in conditions which would banish conventional equipment to the barn, will ensure a profitable future for what is probably the UKs largest manure spreader. &#42