Small kit’s big advantage in paddock maintenance

A four-wheel drive, articulated tractor is one of the key machines in David Holt’s Suffolk-based contracting service.

But unlike the tractors of this description that work big arable acreages, where operators can boast of having 350hp or more under their right foot, Mr Holt’s machine musters a more modest 22hp.

The Goldoni “Quad” tractor is one of the principal power units used by Grass Solutions, a contracting service that operates throughout East Anglia improving horse paddocks and keeping them in good order.

“The fields are used very intensively and can get into a very poor state, especially when owners don’t have the knowledge, skills or equipment to manage them properly,” notes David Holt.

“When customers first ask me how they can best improve their grass, I joke that getting rid of the horses would be the most effective remedy.”

More realistically, he goes on to recommend a stocking rate that the paddocks can tolerate and rotational grazing that gives the grass a chance to recover.

The Grass Solutions team can then perk up the sward with routine harrowing and fertiliser application and tackle ragwort, thistles and other weeds by spraying and topping.

“Paddock owners often phone up looking for a quick fix, but when the benefits of a proper management regime are explained they usually sign up for a programme of work that can transform the productivity of their grazing,” he says.

The challenge is to make the job pay; Mr Holt reckons paddock maintenance accounts for about 50% of his time and turnover, but only 25% of profit.

Most comes from the firm’s grass care operations on golf courses and sports fields.

Buying used equipment and some DIY-built kit helps keep capital investment to a minimum.

But being well organised is key, spending as little time as possible moving around the three or four customers visited each day.

“I use a card index system to keep on top of the large number of individual jobs we’ve got booked in at this time of year,” says Mr Holt.

“It is essential to be well-organised, not simply to be as time- and cost-efficient as possible, but also because clients need to know when we are coming so that horses can be removed from paddocks.”

A Toyota HiLux pick-up converted into a self-propelled sprayer is used for pesticide and liquid feed application in larger paddocks and amenity areas while the little Goldoni and an elderly Kubota tackle a variety of paddock maintenance tasks.

The kit is small – the flexible tine harrow is only 2m wide, for example, and the oscillating-spout broadcaster holds just 200-250kg of fertiliser.

But it is big enough for paddocks and handy enough to load on to a trailer for speedy travel between clients.