SMALL & NIPPY:
For manoeuvrability and access to buildings, skid-steer loaders are hard to beat. Peter Hill asks whether two of the smallest machines can do enough to warrant a place on the dairy farm
DIMINUTIVE but nippy, the Avant Proficat and Opico Skidster may not be able to handle half-tonne silage bales or a huge forkful of yard manure. But look on them as powered wheelbarrows and their potential roles start to become apparent. In short, they are for all the odd running around type handling tasks that demand muscle-power and sweat.
The Avant Tecno Proficat, made in Finland, is the smallest of a trio of small loaders imported by Worthing, West Sussex-based Eurogreen. It operates on the skid-steer principle, with hydrostatic drive to all four wheels powered by an 11hp petrol or 9.5hp Kubota diesel engine in the tail. It weighs in at just 450kg (992lb) – or up to 500kg (1102lb) with optional counterweights fitted. Its lift capacity is put at 560kg (1234lb).
Opico makes its Skidster in Lincolnshire and sells it through Herts-based MW Plant Sales – which reinforces the manufacturers view that the machine has most potential in construction, road maintenance, amenity and similar applications. But, like the Proficat, the Skidsters compactness and relatively low buying price marks it out for farmyard tasks as well.
The one luxury it does not offer is a seat – that has been sacrificed in favour of the shortest possible overall length; 1.97m (6ft 6in) with the bucket on the ground. Instead, the operator stands on a platform just behind the power unit – a 13hp or 16hp petrol engine, or a 12hp Ruggerini diesel. Four-wheel hydrostatic drive provides the motive force.
Tight dimensions and low running costs are what both these machines are all about and, at 1m (3ft 3in) wide, both machines can virtually go anywhere a wheel barrow can. At last, the old calf boxes can be cleaned out mechanically instead of by hand-fork.
Drop off the Proficats optional twin wheels and working width comes down to only 0.79m (31in); the Skidster cannot quite match that despite being built in three versions – 0.84m (33in), 0.94m (37in) and 1m (39in) – but the widest model, which also provides the most lateral stability, will be narrow enough for most farm users.
At Llancloudy Farm near Hereford, Stephen Jones says the Avant Proficat has given his retired father a new lease of life.
"When you consider some of the backbreaking work we normally do by hand, it makes a lot of sense to use a machine if you can," he says. "Its so handy to roll bags of feed out of the Land Rover into the bucket rather than humping them onto your shoulder."
Not that the Proficats workload is limited to what would otherwise be hand work; it has taken on proper tasks such as handling big round straw bales, clearing 30t of yard manure from a building that previously had to be dug out by hand, and spreading 60t of hardcore across the floor of another shed.
Controls are easy to grasp, reckons Mr Jones. They comprise two stubby levers – moved forward or back they control direction, speed and turns; moved sideways they operate the loading arms, attachment crowd and tip, and grabs.
"Im very impressed with the Proficat," he says. "Its very nippy, its economical, and so far its been reliable too. It may not be the thing for a big, modern farmyard where larger equipment can be used. "But if space is tight or you just want something handy, it takes some beating."
John van Nievelt bought his Skidster specifically for cleaning out calving boxes used by the dairy herd at Bulley Poultry Farm, Churcham, Glos. But he is already finding many other uses for the machine.
"Ive always had to clean out the boxes by hand in the past but not any more. The Skidster will easily pass through a 1.2m (4ft) doorway," he says. "Im also going to get a yard scraper for clearing cubicle house passages, though I suspect it will be as a back up to the tractor."
The machine has plenty of hydraulic power, says Mr van Nievelt; so much in fact that care has to be taken not to tip it up. As with all such devices, loads need to be kept near the ground for stability during manoeuvres.
Controlling the machine takes getting used to; there are two grab handles to hold on, with small levers next to them which can be operated by fingertip to move forward or back or make a turn. Similar but separate levers operate the hydraulic functions.
"Its a handy tool for getting into a confined space and for nipping on and off," he says. "But its not the sort of thing you would want to spend a day on." *
Mini skid-steer loaders
Avant ProficatOpico Skidster
Engine11hp Honda petrol13hp Honda petrol
9.5hp Kubota diesel16hp Briggs petrol
12hp Ruggerini diesel
DriveHydrostatic 4WDHydrostatic 4WD
ControlsHand levers forGrab handles with
forward, reverse andadjoining fingertip
turns, plus loadercontrols for forward,
functionsreverse and turns, and
Weight450-500kg (992-1102lb)570kg (1256lb)
Width0.79-1m (31-39in)0.84-1m (33-39in)
Lift560kg (1234lb)220kg (485lb)
Lift height2m (6ft 6in)2m (6ft 6in)
List pricePetrol 11hp £7141Petrol 13hp £7596
Diesel 9.5hp £7965Petrol 16hp £8262
Diesel 12hp poa
SupplierEurogreenMW Plant Sales
Above: There is no seat for the Opico Skidster operator but that makes it easier to nip on and off.
Below:With fork and grab, the Avant Proficat can take a reasonable bite of yard manure or carry a round straw bale.