What’s in Your Shed? High-houred Valtras on the Llyn Peninsula

Our latest machinery shed rummage unearths a fleet of well-worked Valtras on the Llyn Peninsula, Gwynedd, one of which has clocked 32,000 hours.

James Andrews puts the questions to William Hugh, Ann, Tomos and Wil Roberts.

See also: How to keep a four-cylinder Valtra N-series running at its best

How brand loyal are you?

Back in the 1990s, a brilliant local dealership, run by David Glyn Jones, switched from John Deere to Valtra and we’ve been hooked on them ever since.

The tractors were always good ­– simple, powerful and tough – but a big part of the appeal was the fact that David was such a fantastic engineer, able to fix anything, be it mechanical or electrical. We were lucky to have him so nearby.

He retired in the early 2000s and sadly passed away recently, but we’re still loyal to the brand. One of the things we like is the fact you can get high-horsepower tractors that aren’t too complicated.

Farm facts

WH and MA Roberts, Pwllheli, Gwynedd

  • Farm 120ha grassland half owned, half rented
  • Livestock 500 Welsh Mule ewes, 110-cow suckler herd
  • Contracting Round and big bale square baling, forage harvesting, umbilical and tanker slurry spreading, direct drilling
  • Staff William Hugh, Ann, Tomos and Wil Roberts, plus two part-time members of staff

We do a lot of the maintenance work ourselves, but we do really miss having an expert on our doorstep for more complex problems.

DJS Hydraulics on Anglesey is about our closest dealer now and that’s almost 50 miles away. We also deal with John Bownes, all the way over in Winsford, Cheshire.

Valtra T191 tractor

Valtra T191 © James Andrews

Favourite dealer?

That would have to be Medwyn Ellis of M-Trac, who is our local Krone dealer. He’s nearby, he offers brilliant backup and we really like the machines too.

PR Roberts Agricultural Engineers, run by Philip Roberts, is another. He’s great for filters, oils and generic spares, as well as making up hydraulic pipes.

Favourite piece of kit?

The Moore Unidrill, which we bought second-hand a couple of years ago.

It’s incredibly versatile, allowing us to do everything from reseeding grass directly into an old ley to putting wheat or spring barley straight into a stubble, or sowing oilseed rape with stubble turnips.

We’re also big fans of the Lely 130 trailed forager. It’s well matched to silage clamps we have in this area and we can make good progress, covering about 30ha/day.

Lely 130 forager in a shed

Lely 130 forager © James Andrews

Least favourite piece of kit?

We don’t have anything we don’t get on with at the moment. But if there is a machine that proves a bit tricky, we stick with it, or modify it so it does what we need.

This is partly because we can’t justify spending huge amounts of money chopping and changing equipment.

There just isn’t enough work on the peninsula to justify how much new kit costs, so we have to make the most of what we have.

We also make some of our own machinery, such as trailers and bale grabs, which has saved us thousands. One of the latest projects is a 7m dribble bar.

In the shed

  • Tractors Valtra T191 Hitech, T174 Active, N134 Active, T130 HiTech, T120 HiTech and A95 HiTech, David Brown 1212
  • Telehandler JCB 526-56
  • Grass kit 3m Krone EasyCut mower conditioner, Kuhn GA 6501 rake, Lely 130 trailed forager
  • Balers Krone BigPack 890XC square baler and Comprima CF155XC variable chamber round baler, Kuhn SW4014 wrapper
  • Slurry HiSpec 2,600 gal tanker with splash plate and trailing shoe, Bauer umbilical pump, Storth reelers, home-made dribble bar
  • Cultivation and drilling 4m Kuhn power harrow, 3m Moore Unidrill, Quantock grass harrows with Stocks seeder
  • Trailers Home-made 24ft livestock trailer, bale trailer, and low loader, home-made bale squeeze x2, Ruscon 10t silage trailer x2
  • Other Bomford hedgecutter, Kverneland Taarup 853 feeder, Teagle SX 3000 G3 fertiliser spreader, Ruscon lime spreader

Latest purchase?

The Krone Comprima CF155XC round baler is one of the most recent.

It’s a good, solid machine and, thanks to the chain-and-slat system, we’re able to vary the bale size.

Most go out at 4ft, but it’s nice to have the option of pushing them to 5ft.

We’re big believers in baling dry silage, almost at the haylage stage, as it’s pointless putting lots of heavy water in the bale.

They keep their shape throughout the winter too, you don’t get effluent seeping out, and it’s cheaper as you’re not having to make as many bales.

Krone Comprima baler in a shed

Krone Comprima baler © James Andrews

Unlike a roller baler that gives a soft centre, the Comprima packs in plenty of grass to give a fairly consistent density.

We also recently bought a second-hand Valtra A95 loader tractor, which is a brilliant little thing.

It’s compact and easy to manoeuvre around the yard, which makes it great for pulling our Kverneland Taarup 853 feeder.

This spring and summer it spent most of its time on our twin-rotor Kuhn rake, which it’s well suited to. The tight turning lock is particularly handy for headland turns.

Valtra A95

Valtra A95 © James Andrews

Oldest machine still at work?

William Hugh: That’s me.

But next in line is our set of Quantock grass harrows with a Stocks seeder on top that we use for sowing grass into cultivated ground.

We bought it second-hand five years ago, but it’s probably more than 15 years old. It’s fairly basic, with no metering wheel or speed sensor, meaning you have to drive at a set speed.

You can’t drop the seed too quickly either, as you will block the pipes.

The old thing has put in a lot of grass for us though, and works plenty well enough when set up correctly.

Wil, who’s only 12, has also been working to resurrect an old David Brown 1212 that had been parked up in the corner of the yard for seven years.

There was water sitting in the cylinders, so we thought he’d never get it going, but he kept at it, and with a little help from William Hugh, got it to fire up.

The clutch was also seized, so he got it ready to split and we helped him get it apart. All that he has left to do now is the bodywork.

Wil Roberts with his David Brown 1212

Wil Roberts with his David Brown 1212 © James Andrews

How long do you keep your machines?

We tend to hang onto them for as long as they last, which is why we’ve got a Valtra T130 that has done 32,000 hours (See “32,000-hour Valtra”).

To keep them at their best for as long as possible, we spend a lot of time on maintenance and repairs. Everything gets blown off with a compressor and sprayed with oil before it gets parked up under cover for the winter.

We avoid the pressure washer if we can, as we don’t want water getting into the bearings, but sometimes there’s no other way. If it does get used, we try our best to keep the jet away from moving parts.

All the equipment gets well maintained too, with plenty of grease and repairs carried out during quieter periods.

Next on your wish list?

There’s nothing we’re desperate for at the moment, but it would be nice to have a tractor with a front linkage.

The main benefit would be carrying a slurry pipe reeler, but we could also look at getting a front mower and it would be handy for putting on and taking off weights.

If we traded a tractor in, our 2017 Valtra T174 would probably be the one to go, as it would still have a decent value relative to what we bought it for.

Most embarrassing machinery mistake?

William: I had a bit of a mishap when drilling some oilseed rape and stubble turnips with the Moore Unidrill this autumn.

I had carefully calibrated it before starting, made a tidy job of putting it in and was chuffed that I only had a handful of seed left in the hopper at the end of the job.

I then realised that I’d forgotten to replace the fan pipe after calibrating it, so all the seed was dribbled in 50cm bands spaced 3m apart.

After some cussing, I blocked off four seed pipes in the centre of the drill and went back over it. It looks OK now, but there will always be a few thick stripes in it.

Most expensive repair bill?

A pin dropped out of the planetary gear on our Valtra T191 and damaged the casting, which was a £7,500 repair. It was a big job, but we saved on labour by stripping it down ourselves.

Valtra T191

Valtra T191 © James Andrews

Most overpriced spare part?

We needed a new alloy hub for the water pump on the T174, which was ridiculous at £1,100.

Best invention?

We built a 24ft livestock trailer from scratch, which cost us about £10,000 less than if we’d bought one from a manufacturer.

The body has a steel frame with aluminium sheeting riveted on and folding decks, and it’s removable so that we can use it as a bale trailer if needed.

It’s saved us so much time as we can carry 12 cows, 24 calves or 110 ewes in a single trip.

Homemade livestock trailer

Homemade livestock trailer © James Andrews

We’ve also made our own bale trailer with extra-wide tyres to stop it making a mess on our heavy ground, and a low loader for moving our 360 digger and 4m power harrow.

Our home-made bale squeezes saved us a chunk of money over buying new too, as will our dribble bar project, which we’ll complete this winter.

Homemade low loader

Homemade low loader © James Andrews

What couldn’t you live without in the workshop?

The mig welder, as it’s in almost constant use. We’ve also recently got a Milwaukee cordless grease gun, which is very handy.

What’s your everyday transport?

A 2018 Mitsubishi L200 Titan, which is one of the few vehicles we’ve bought new.

It’s great for towing, often doing 70-mile trips to market, pulls well and is comfortable to drive. It’s now done 84,000 miles and hasn’t given us any trouble.

Best tractor you’ve ever had?

For the sheer amount of work it’s carried out, it would have to be the T130. But the T191 is a nicer tractor, even though it has had an expensive transmission repair.

The amount of power it has in reserve is fantastic and we like the fact that it’s so simple, with a manual-shifting semi-powershift transmission, mechanical spool valves and no screen.

Valtra T191

Valtra T191 © James Andrews

And the worst?

We haven’t had anything particularly bad, but the Lamborghini 110-90 turbo we had on the feeder before the Valtra A95 was getting unreliable and finally went due to a failed pto clutch pack.

Most surprisingly useful feature you’ve found on a machine?

We like to keep things simple here, so we avoid too much complex technology.

However, it’s fair to say that we’ve found the moisture meter and weigher on our Krone 890 baler particularly useful.

Most pointless piece of farm technology?

Pointless isn’t quite the right word, but we’ve certainly found AdBlue systems to be the most annoying.

We were really starting to lose patience with them playing up on our T174 and N134, so had them removed.

Biggest machinery bargain?

Probably the T191, which is worth roughly what we paid for it.

Although we bought a second-hand Hakki Pilke firewood processor for £7,500 when we were clearing fallen timber at a holiday house we own and the logs we sold paid for it in the first year.

32,000-hour Valtra

There are a few long-in-the-tooth tractors around that have worked more than 20,000 hours, but you don’t get many with 32,000 on the clock.

The Roberts family have put almost all of these hours on the tractor themselves, having bought it as an ex-demonstrator in 2004 when it was on just 700.

Valtra T130

Valtra T130 © James Andrews

Most of its time has been spent umbilical slurry spreading with a splash plate in tow, but it’s also racked up a few thousand hours on cultivation work.

Miraculously, the 6.6-litre Sisu engine hasn’t had to be touched and doesn’t smoke or burn oil.

Hydraulic pumps have been its main weak point, having gone through two so far, and it’s now parked up waiting for a third.

They did also have to dip into the transmission once for some minor repairs and the hydraulic shuttle is a little weak.

William Hugh and Tomos and Wil Roberts plan to nurse it back to health and it will be put back into service on light duties.

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