With more farmers turning
to zero grazing, the number
of companies offering
machinery for this
specialised feeding system
is increasing. Mike Williams
looks at some current cut-
and-carry machinery options
AFTER years of attracting just a handful of enthusiasts, zero grazing could be poised for a major breakthrough in popularity, and one of the reasons for the increasing interest has been the development of more efficient machinery, according to Edward Walley.
Mr Walley farms 200ha (500 acres) with 370 cows in two herds, and his son Matthew runs Zero, a machinery business based on the family farm at Cotton Abbotts, Waverton, Chester, where he specialises in equipment for zero grazing.
There are few UK farmers with as much experience of zero grazing as the Walley family. Edward switched from grazing conventionally to cutting and carting 25 years ago. Benefits are said to include easier usage of off-lying fields, extending the grazing season due to the absence of poaching, plus a 25% or more boost to production through the absence of treading, soiling and selective grazing.
The advantages persuaded Mr Walley to persist with the system in spite of the lack of suitable equipment at that time.
"Zero grazing was attracting quite a lot of interest and the piece of kit most of us used for cutting and loading the grass was a forage harvester – usually a Kidd machine. The problem with a forage harvester is the chopping action, and if grass cut for zero grazing is chopped it starts to heat up, and that is something which should be avoided," he says.
"I think the machinery problems discouraged some farmers from continuing with zero grazing, and the fact that a lot more farmers are changing to zero grazing now is partly because specialist equipment is available."
Mr Walley decided to tackle the machinery problem by developing his own harvesting system. The original zero grazing mower was completed about 15 years ago, the ancestor of the current Zero machine which is a twin-drum mower with a V-belt drive and a 227cm (7ft 6in) cutting width.
The drums are designed to give a clean cutting action to encourage rapid regrowth, and the cut material is blown into a trailer by a flywheel. The result is said to be minimal damage to the grass, avoiding the heating effect and maintaining freshness and palatability. The pto powered mower is priced at £11,800.
Although the mower is designed to work with an ordinary forage wagon, some farmers find the freshly harvested, unchopped grass much more bulky than silage to the point they do not have enough space at the feed barriers.
To solve this problem Mr Walley designed a bunker trailer that joined the Zero range four years ago. It has a specially designed drawbar allowing just one tractor to power the mower and tow the bunker, and a full bunker can be left in a concreted loafing area where cattle can self-feed along both sides.
Zero bunkers are available in 4t and 6t versions with prices from £4000. The 6t model has feeding space for 36 cows at a time and is said to be suitable for 100 cows with 24-hour access. To complete the range Zero also offers a special feeder, designed with either side delivery and suitable for large herds. The price is £12,000.
Another zero grazing option is the continental style self-loading forage wagon. Although the UK market had virtually disappeared during the early 1990s, there has recently been evidence of reviving interest, spearheaded by the Austrian built Pottinger range sold in the UK by Devon-based Landmec Pottinger. Sales director John Barker said the upturn in sales started in 2000, but hopes of a big increase last year were dashed by the foot-and-mouth epidemic.
"There was a lot of genuine interest but we were forced to cancel the programme of demonstrations we had planned," he says. "That was a major setback, but we are getting a lot of interest again this year and sales have already increased."
Pottinger claims the number one spot in the European forage wagon sales charts, and their Europrofi models are currently the top selling UK range. The D version of the Europrofi wagon is fitted with a cross-conveyor for delivering the grass along a feed passage, and the alternative is to use a standard harvest model to unload the grass in bulk for buckraking into the feed area. The harvest version of the Europrofi wagon has 42cu m capacity and is priced at £28,860, and the D version with a feeding conveyor holds 40cu m and is in the price list at £34,707.
The Whistance family in Herefordshire are, like the Walleys, farmers who have diversified into machinery marketing. Karl Whistance, who runs the machinery business, imports a wide range of equipment, mainly from Italy and most of it for livestock farming. Last year they added the Zero Grazer harvesting machines to their range, and Mr Whistance says the early indications are that these are their most successful machines so far.
Zero Grazers are basically forage wagons with a built-in mowing unit. All the trailed models have a tandem axle and a gear-driven drum mower with either a 1.85m or 2.15m cutting width. Capacities are 24, 28, 32 and 50cu m, and prices start at about £8000 for the 24cu m version. Unloading can be either in bulk by tipping, or the grass can be dropped against a feed barrier on either side of the machine using a cross-conveyor.
Mr Whistance is also offering a self-propelled version. It is powered by an 85hp engine and the specification includes four-wheel-drive and capacities up to 32cu m are available with approximately 12 minutes loading time. *
The Herefordshire-based Whistance family – who trade as K and K Whistance, added zero-grazing harvesters to their range last year.
Above: Zero bunker-trailer allows one tractor to power mower
and tow bunker. Right: Pottinger self-loading forage wagon.