Recent years have seen forage wagons become an increasingly popular choice for farmers and contractors. Andy Collings met a farmer in North Wales who recently gave up his trailed forager for a forage wagon system.
For Sion Williams, good quality silage is essential. It can have a significant impact on his farm’s income and is also instrumental in the successful conversion of the farm to organic.
Based at Cappele, near Corwen in Denbighshire, Mr Williams, in partnership with other family members, runs 80 Stabiliser sucklers and an 800-ewe breeding flock on his 240ha (600-acre) farm. He also offers a grass harvesting contracting service to neighbouring farms.
With all stock housed during the winter, silage forms the mainstay of the diets fed and calls for about 120ha (300 acres) of grass to be harvested and ensiled.
“Four years ago I decided to chop in my trailed Pottinger Mex trailed forage harvester,” he says. “It was a sound machine, but finding the labour to drive the tractors and trailers was getting increasingly difficult and my customers were also asking for a longer-cut silage.
“I decided to try out a forage wagon system, which would certainly solve my labour problem and, by all accounts, enable me to produce the length of cut needed,” he says.
Mr Williams admits he had some reservations about changing over to a system that, on the face of it, was a stop-go way of silaging rather than the continuous foraging system he was used to.
“My biggest concern was one of output,” he says. “But, as it’s turned out, there does not seem to be that much difference, particularly when working at our normal distances of less than a couple of miles from the clamp.”
The first forage wagon to arrive was a Pottinger Europrofi 3, a tandem-axled unit with a 50cu m capacity, which has now been updated to create the company’s new Europrofi series.
“I used this machine for three seasons harvesting a total of about 1800 acres in first and second cuts each season,” he says. “It was a very sound machine.”
Clearly sold on the forage wagon concept, Mr Williams chose to buy a new machine last year and took possession of a Pottinger Torro 5100, which he pulls with an MF7475 tractor rated at 150hp.
“It’s slightly larger than the older machine and there have been one or two changes to the loading and chopping area,” he says.
The 5100 has a capacity of 51cu m and receives its grass using a 1.85m wide pick-up. Any stones lifted by the pick-up are given a chance to fall out when the crop is passed over a small clear area as it heads for the rotor.
The rotor forces the crop through a bank of 39 knives, which result in the longer chop length Mr Williams says his customers now tend to prefer. Pottinger says the theoretical chop length is 35mm.
Recognising the importance of maintaining sharp blades, he runs a grinder over them at the start of each day as part of the daily start-up routine.
“I am considering getting a second set of blades which can be used in conditions where there is little danger of encountering stones, which tends to be the more established pastures,” he says. “The older set can then be used for harvesting new leys where the chance of finding the odd rock or two can be high.”
Loading the wagon starts at the front of the trailer; the grass simply emerges from the chopping unit. When the pile of grass reaches the top of the sides, a pressure switch triggers movement of the chain-and-slat floor to move the grass to the rear of the trailer.
The Pottinger Torro 5100 has a capacity of 51cu m and uses a bank of 39 knives to create a chop length of about 35mm
“I think this is where the forage wagon can score over a self-propelled forage harvester,” he says. “The packing action of the chain and slats means that loads are far more compact and heavier than can be achieved from filling them from a chute.”
Distance from field to clamp is the key point when using forage wagons. After all, when they are travelling to and from the clamp they are not harvesting.
Mr Williams reckons that with anything less than a couple of miles, he is clearing between 16 and 24ha (40 and 60 acres) a day. If it is further, then output reduces accordingly.
“In the area where I work, which is mainly on smaller units, it would not be possible to bring much more grass into a clamp; the customer is not usually geared up to handle any larger amounts,” he says.
The normal procedure is for there to be an operator on a buckrake and, as the day progresses, a second tractor is used to provide the compaction.
Torro wagons do not tip their load out, but use the chain and slats to deliver it when the back door is opened. The advantages of this include not having to worry about overhead cables, no instability as the load is tipped and, probably best of all, the load can often be delivered directly on to the clamp.
Compared with a self-propelled forage harvester and the number of tractors and trailers, loaders and the men needed to drive them, the forage wagon system is undoubtedly a cheaper option.
“It all depends on your circumstances and the area in which you are operating,” says Mr Williams. “If you have large fields and vast acreages to cut I would think that a self-propelled forager is still the way to go. But in my neck of the woods, where the fields can be on the small side with steep hills, I think the forage wagon has the edge.”
In terms of contractor charges, for the operation of the forage wagon alone he charges his customers about £70/ha (£28/acre), a price that is not too far removed, he believes, from operating a self-propelled forage harvester.
“Overall, I am well pleased with the forage wagon system. It has the capacity that suits my customers and it produces the length of grass for ensiling they say they require,” he says.
It is not a message lost, it seems, on other contractors operating in Mr Williams’ area . He says most have now opted to use forage wagons for grass silage.
See them working
You can see working demos of mowers, tedders, rakes, foragers, balers, forage wagons, wrappers and clamp equipment from all the big manufacturers at this year’s Grassland UK event. There’s also a muck area which will host demos of muckspreaders and slurry injection equipment and provide info on the latest NVZ regs. It takes place on 7 May (9.30am-5pm) at the Bath and West Showground, Shepton Mallet, Somerset. For more details and to book advance tickets (up to 2 May) ring 01749 822 200 or see www.bathandwest.com.