There was a time when one of the only considerations taken into account when building a new stock shed was how tall the animals were. Consequently, many livestock units around the country are cursed with low-slung buildings only capable of accommodating the average Dairy Shorthorn.
Of course that is fine if you have an army of keen, fit helpers under 5ft 4in, who are happy to muck out with forks and wheelbarrows. In reality, it is a pain to get into these cramped corners using modern machinery.
Cue the compact loader. Generally split into two camps – skid-steer or pivot-steer – these machines do a two-week job in a couple of days.
Germany’s Schaeffer 3345
In terms of capacity, it was initially tricky to work out which two models were truly comparable. In the end we went for maximum tipping load – a figure which represents the amount of weight that can be placed in the bucket with the boom fully raised before the machine will tip forward.
For the Schaeffer 3345 this is 1.65t with all four wheels in line while JCB’s Robot 180 will handle a maximum of 1.64t no matter what direction it is facing.
So it’s a close call in capacity and a similar story with lift heights. The red-coated German’s pallet-tines climb to 2.81m while the yellow-liveried Brit tops out at 2.78m.
JCB has opted for good old British engineering in the form of a four-cylinder Perkins powerplant, while Schaeffer has dropped a four-pot Kubota into the backend of the 3345. Surprisingly for such small engines, both boast snail-sized turbochargers. For Schaeffer this pushes output to 45hp while JCB’s 2.2-litre block manages to churn out an impressive 60hp.
Both machines use hydrostatic oil drives to transfer power to the wheels. Schaeffer’s twin-speed unit allows operators to switch between two ranges – 0-10kph or 0-20kph – effectively varying the degree of controllability the throttle pedal offers through its full arc of travel. As the pedal is depressed, engine revs rise and oil-flow increases simultaneously to increase forward speed.
The left-foot inching/brake pedal can be used to boost revs when more oil-flow is required.
The Robot employs two separate single-speed transmissions – one for the left-hand drive wheels, the other for the right pair. Engine revs are set independently, either by the hand-throttle or optional foot throttle. All travel – forwards, backwards, left or right – is handled by the operator’s left-hand joystick.
Size and Manoeuvrability
In terms of dimensions, the JCB appears dinky alongside its tall German counterpart. But this belies its mass, weighing in some 200kg heavier than the Schaeffer at 2.74t. Short and squat, its wide wheelbase provides an unrivalled feeling of lateral stability.
In contrast, with the driver perched high over the Schaeffer’s narrow yet long chassis, there is less tendency towards nose-nod but left/right bumps and jolts don’t inspire the same feeling of confidence the JCB offers. Put simply, because of its low seating position, you are sitting in the Robot rather than on it.
The JCB Robot
But, as with all skid-steers, this means a compromise on access, although it is one issue that JCB has tried to tackle. By using a single boom (rather than the parallel beams of other similar machines), the company has provided a way into the cab from the left-hand side. That’s better than the usual route of clambering up over the bucket and in through the front screen, brushing between the wheels on the way in and ensuring any accumulated muck ends up smeared up the driver’s shins.
Access is no issue on the Schaeffer – it is just a short hop up into the open work-station.
Both yellow and red machines are nimble around the yard but the JCB wins hands-down with its ability to spin on a sixpence. Being able to do a 180 degree turn in a cramped calving box is a bonus.
Regular pivot-steer operators will feel at home with the Schaeffer’s bend-in-the-middle set-up and appreciate that mini-loading shovel feel. But, for anyone unfamiliar with such a layout, there is always the issue of getting stuck against a wall.
The Schaeffer is definitely a jump-on-and-drive machine. Hop up into the seat, gun the engine, flick the joystick-mounted shuttle slider-switch forwards and a gentle squeeze of the throttle gets things moving. Knock the red thumb-switch down and the machine gently lurches from range one to two.
In contrast, the Robot takes more getting used to, even with previous skid-steer experience. Squeeze into the cab and first lower the left-hand armrest. Then, before anything will work, a roller-coaster-style restraining bar has to be lowered across your lap. Although not unduly uncomfortable, it does conjure up distant memories of being strapped into a high-chair as a toddler.
If you have opted for JCB’s standard single-lever controls, all loader functions will be grouped on the right-hand joystick while steering, speed and travel direction are all looked after by the left hand. A good arrangement for the uninitiated, it can prove confusing for those used to the tank-style steering set-ups or pedals used on other skid-steers. JCB tells us Robots can be ordered with whichever layout the purchaser prefers.
Emily Padfield puts the Schaffer through its paces.
Once mastered, the skid-steer’s controls make good sense and the responsiveness of the hydraulics’ servo controls is silky-smooth. But, given the Robot’s 60hp, its pushing power isn’t quite so impressive.
Running into a compacted 18in deep layer of muck and straw with a right-boot firmly planted on the optional foot-throttle, it soon runs out of oomph.
But, rather than its muscle letting it down, it is traction that is the issue. Its close-coupled wheels bolted rigidly to the chassis soon start to scrabble. To get a full grab-load it is a case of stacking two or three slabs together – a time consuming affair.
By contrast, the Schaeffer’s chassis articulation allows front and rear axles to pivot independently with the effect that traction is maintained much longer. Consequently, even with its smaller engine, it feels like the more perky performer because all that power is put to the ground.
So which one to buy? At the risk of sitting on the fence, there is no clear-cut answer.
If you need a solid, stable, ultra-manoeuvrable machine capable of squeezing under 2m-high doorways, the JCB robot is for you.
However, as with all wheeled skid-steers, its usefulness is pretty much limited to concrete, unless you opt for the tracked variant.
If your buildings can accommodate a longer, taller, less agile machine that will be asked to go off-piste, the Schaeffer has the edge.
Its power is put to the ground more effectively and has the added bonus of being able to run out across rutted ground to stick a bale in a ring feeder if needed.
JCB’s glass encapsulated cabin batters the ear-drums but has plenty of creature comforts like a heater/blower and bungeed luggage nets.
Likes and gripes
Chassis articulation = constant traction
Shift-on-the-move two-speed transmission
Smooth, responsive hydraulics
Easy, open access
Cab creature comforts
Narrow wheelbase – stability?
Rigid chassis compromises traction
Clumsy attachment carriage
Low ground clearance = concrete-only machine
Tall cab height
JCB Robot 180
Max tipping load
Max lift height
4-cyl Kubota turbo
4-cyl Perkins turbo
Twin range hydrostatic
Single range hydrostatic
Length (with bucket)
Turning circle (with bucket)