24 July 2002

Making his own and prepared to pay for it

Few farmers with less than

120ha (300 acres) would

consider making a big

investment in expensive

machinery. But, as

Mervyn Bailey reports, one

east midlands producer

has done this to tackle his

own silage work and

remain independent

BY spending over £100,000 on machinery to make his own silage, Les Wilson hopes to keep the wheels rolling at Oak Tree Farm, Nottingham, without outside help. All silage, as well as haylage for the local equine industry, is produced in-house on the 114ha (280 acre) unit, along with around 810ha (2000 acres) of baled straw.

"Reliability is a major issue for me and something I apply to all aspects of my business," says Mr Wilson. "Im prepared to buy new equipment because I dont want to spend time fixing older machinery when catchy weather can soon bring things to a halt."

At least three cuts of grass are taken, equating to 70ha (175 acres) of baled silage for winter feed for more than 100 head of pedigree Limousin stock.

"We aim to cut grass young and this is one of the reasons we dont need a chopping unit," says Mr Wilson. "If silage needs to be chopped it should go into the clamp not bales. Baled silage is all we feed our stock and they have won at several major shows around the country, including the Royal."

The grass is usually mowed two days before baling and spread to get a good wilt before it is rowed up into 6m swaths with a Taarup TA9146 rake.

"A single rotor rake is substantial enough for our needs and has the benefit of covering up to 4.7m in a single pass or doubling swaths up to 6m depending on conditions," says Mr Wilson. "The grass is rowed up immediately in front of the baler so it has time to dry out sufficiently."

The New Holland BB960S big square baler replaces an older Hesston 4860S, which produced a 80cm x 90cm bale. The 120cm x 90cm bale dimensions of the new arrival are reckoned to be easier to transport.

Buying the new baler was not a decision taken lightly. Mr Wilson looked at several models but the main competition was between the Massey Ferguson 187 and the BB960.

"We have been using square balers since the 1980s and know most of their weak points, such as the crown wheel and pinion arrangement on the Hesston-type balers that has been replaced by gearboxes to reduce maintenance," he says.

As for the wrapper, Mr Wilson believes there was no real competition after using a McHale 991 for the past 10 years.

"Our last wrapper stood up to everything we could throw at it and was never touched with the welder – unlike some makes on the market. The 998 is as rugged as they come and can wrap round and square bales, so its very versatile."

All tractors and implements on Oak Tree Farm carry a fleet number with individual running costs monitored from the day of purchase until they are sold.

"All repairs are carried out in the workshop, which is an expanding part of the business," says David Fetcher, Oak Tree Farms fitter. "Everything is recorded, from light bulbs to fabrication work. It takes a bit of time getting used to writing things down but it soon becomes second nature."

He previously worked for a John Deere dealership, so carries out all the repairs to the farms three tractors and machinery, while fabrication work is carried out by Mr Wilson and members of farm staff.

"I have always had a keen interest in machinery and have links with haulage work, which is probably why I like the fleet recording system. You cant remember everything and this method means you get accurate costings," explains Mr Wilson. &#42

Baling 70ha (175 acres) of grass and 810ha (2000 acres) of straw is the main task for the farms flagship tractor – a John Deere 7810 – and the New Holland BB960 baler. It lacks a chopper but then Les Wilson reckons it is not needed for grass cut young in its prime.

"Reliability is a major issue for me and something I apply to all aspects of my business," says Les Wilson. "This is the main reason I have invested so much in new machinery. It means I dont spend time fixing it when there is lots of work to be done."