Farmer tested: Five telehandlers on trial

Earlier this year a Dorset dairy farmer in the market for a new loader undertook a thorough evaluation of five telehandlers before settling on a surprising choice. Nick Fone got the lowdown on the decision-making process.

With more than 600 hungry mouths to feed, the telehandler at Vortex Holsteins is kept pretty busy, clocking up a minimum of six hours every day loading the farm’s Trioliet mixer wagon. With cows yielding an average of 12,000 litres, reliance on the handler isn’t underestimated – other than the milking parlour it’s viewed as the most critical piece of kit.

See also: Driver’s view – Manitou MLT 731 telehandler

On that basis, reliability is essential and generally after 6,000 hours loaders move down the food chain to the Dorset business’ youngstock rearing unit where they get an easier life. This year it was the turn of a two-and-a-half-year-old JCB 526-56.

Farm facts

Vortex Holsteins, Martinstown, Dorchester, Dorset

Farmed area 93ha (230 acres)

Livestock 530 Holsteins plus 450 followers

Tractors Case MXM 190

Loader Dieci 40.7 AgriPlus

Skid-steer JCB Robot

Feeder wagon 24cu m Trioliet

Staff Tom and Alan King plus another eight full-timers and three part-timers

“We’ve run JCB Loadalls for years and generally had very little trouble but our last one was a bit of a Friday afternoon job and, after 6,000 hours, was beginning to show its age – it wasn’t even reliable enough for the rearing unit,” explains Mr King.

“So this spring we decided to have a good look at our alternative options. Our cow numbers have gone up from 200 to 500 in the past four years so we had moved up from an 18cu m feeder wagon to a 24cu m machine.

“To make everything work together meant we needed a bigger loader, so we set out to look at 3.5t-4t, 7m-reach machines, although not all of the demo models matched that spec.”

Having done a fair bit of research, Mr King slimmed the list of potential candidates down to just five makes based on the proximity to and backup from local dealers.

Over the course of a couple of months those five different machines each did a week’s demo stint at the dairy. Their various strengths and weaknesses were recorded and compared before a final day of reckoning with all the deals on the table.

Here are Mr King’s thoughts on each machine.

Claas 7044 Scorpion

Claas-telehandler

Max lift 4.3t

Max height 7m

Engine 3.6-litre Deutz

Transmission Hydrostatic, 40kph

Max power 122hp

The deal £39,000 with 2,000-hour warranty

Comments “The Scorpion was by far the best machine to drive. The cab was well finished and comfortable, and having lots of different driving modes would make it a contractor’s machine where one technically minded driver is going to fiddle about to get the most out of it.”

BEST FOR

Sheer lifting power. Lifted more than the rivals

Likes

4.4t loader so could lift much more than anything else tested

Different transmission and hydraulic modes – can set to automatically draw boom in while lowering, which is ideal for repetitive tasks

Programmable third service

Visibility good to all corners except offside rear

Gripes

Awkward handbrake rocker switch

Large bulky machine

Most expensive

Dieci 40.7 Agri Plus

Dieci-telehandler

Max lift 4t

Max height 7m

Engine 4.5-litre Iveco

Transmission Hydrostatic, 40kph

Max power 127hp

The deal £30,000 with 2,000-hour warranty, £32,226 with 4,000-hour warranty

Comments “The Dieci was a complete unknown but performed well in the demo, although it’s a big machine. We weren’t sure about a hydrostatic transmission but it seemed very progressive and the various modes were easy to select for different jobs. Ultimately it seemed cheap in comparison to the competition and we’ve got a dealer here in the village that we know and trust.”

BEST FOR

All-round package for the money

Likes

Simple boom suspension activation and auto-disengage when joystick is used

Different transmission modes for different jobs

Shuttle on joystick and steering column

Big lift capacity in manoeuvrable chassis

Gripes

Poor rear visibility – camera a must

Huge door, acts as a sail in the wind

Annoying joystick trigger to activate hydraulics (not as bad as Merlo)

Merlo 40.7 Turbo Farmer

Merlo-telehandler

Max lift 4t

Max height 7m

Engine Deutz

Transmission Hydrostatic, 40kph

Max power 140hp

The deal £33,250 with 2,500-hour warranty, £35,150 with 3,500-hour warranty

Comments “The Merlo seemed a robust, compact package on paper but slovenly transmission, poorly thought-out controls and hydraulics that needed lots of revs let it down.”

BEST FOR

Manoeuvrability and visibility

Likes

Small frame for 4t, 7m-lift machine – very manoeuvrable

Excellent visibility – sitting high in suspended cab

Merlo’s protective metalwork protects everything, no flappy plastic mudguards

Depressurisation system for auxiliary hydraulics

Gripes

Cab too high – had to let suspension down to get into low sheds

Sluggish transmission – felt like the oil would boil if pushed too hard

Poor ergonomics – awkward joystick trigger to activate hydraulics

Awkward-to-engage transmission neutral button. Needed to rev engine to get enough oil flow for aux hydraulics on sand dispenser.

Manitou MLT634

Manitou-telehandler

Max lift 3.4t

Max height 6m

Engine 3.6-litre Deutz

Transmission 4F x 4R torque converter, 35kph

Max power 122hp

The deal £34,000 with 2,000-hour warranty, £36,000 with 3,000-hour warranty

Comments “We liked the Manitou for its visibility and well thought-out joystick but it had some really annoying features, too. More importantly our local dealer was in the process of packing up so that knocked any deal on the head.”

BEST FOR

Agile performer with good joystick

Likes

Good visibility all round – no blind spots

Incredibly agile but only a 3.4t, 6m-reach machine

Mushroom-top joystick the best of the lot

Side window wiper

Gripes

Annoying hydraulic modes – have to select every time you start up to get max lift capacity

Awkward to activate boom suspension

Expensive

Caterpillar TH406

Cat-telehandler

Max lift 3.7t

Max height 6.1m

Engine 4.4-litre Perkins

Transmission 5F x 3R torque converter, 40kph

Max power 126hp

The deal £35,300 with 3,000-hour warranty, £36,930 with 6,000-hour warranty

Comments “Having a dealer that could react fast and get us an alternative demo machine quickly was a definite plus-point.”

BEST FOR

Hydraulics and pushing power

Likes

Fast hydraulics that don’t require high engine revs

Strong pushing power through proper mechanical transmission

Open boom tray avoids debris accumulating

Standard 3,000-hour warranty or 6,000-hour version for only £1,500 extra

Gripes

Big, bulky machine with poor visibility and manoeuvrability

Poor cab heater and fan

Dieci wins

After quite a bit of head-scratching, it was decided that the Dieci offered the best value for money. “But without any history of second-hand values, we were concerned about depreciation,” explains Tom.

“Recognising that, our dealer Mike Fry put together a package that gives us a guaranteed buy-back price. I know that it won’t cost me any more than £2/hour in depreciation.”

Since making the decision in March, the yellow-liveried Italian handler has clocked up more than 1,300 faultless hours and handled every job that has been thrown at it.

“The door is massive, which makes getting in and out easy but because the cab is so well sealed you have to have the window down to get it to shut properly.

“Having an electric drop-down window is a big plus point because it can’t be smashed like an old-school stable door.

“Overall, it’s a big lump that’ll lift plenty and you don’t need an instruction book to operate.”

Follow Tom’s testing on Twitter

As each of the demo machines came and went Tom King posted his thoughts – and photos – on Twitter. To see the whole lot follow

@VortexHolsteins and search THdemo1