20 November 1998



Skid-steer loaders may not

have achieved wide-scale

uptake on farms, but some

producers find them

essential. Michael Williams

spoke to just such a user

THERE are two tractors on Neil Overtons farm in Dorset, but they spend much of the year in the shed while a skid-steer loader does the work.

The Bobcat skid-steer does all the yard work, including handling the big bales of hay and straw and the round silage bales. It scrapes the yards, clears muck from the sheds and when the contractors manure spreaders arrive the skid-steer loads them.

It also does the bale wrapping, using the skid-steers hydraulic system to power a Wilder machine wrapping about 900 silage bales each year.

Apart from the regular work on the farm, the skid-steer is also Mr Overtons first choice for many of the odd jobs.

"If I need to move a machine or lift something heavy, I would always use the Bobcat instead of a tractor," he says. "It is much more convenient and it gets the jobs done far more quickly. I also do mucking out on a contract basis for a few friends and neighbours, but I have had to cut down on that recently because of lack of time."

Two Zetor tractors look after all the field work on Mr Overtons Ham Farm, at Gillingham, and he says they are under-used. The 60ha (100 acre) farm is all grass with a suckler beef unit which Mr Overton runs in the spare time from his job as regional business manager for Volac Supawrap bale wrapping film, and both tractors normally finish work in October and dont leave the shed again until the end of February.

Elderly Zetors

The two elderly Zetors were already there when Mr Overton took over the farm from his father in 1988. The most recent tractor was new in 1987 and it has recorded just over 1000 hours in 11 years.

Although the skid-steer loader means there is not enough work for a second tractor, Mr Overton says the second-hand value would not justify selling one of them, and the two tractors are useful during silage making. The bales are made by a contractor, but Mr Overton is on his own after that, using one tractor to load the bales on a trailer, the second tractor to take the trailer to the yard and the Bobcat to unload, wrap and stack the bales.

Using the Bobcat for bale wrapping and handling means changing attachments, and the speed of using the quick hitch system for switching from one attachment to another is one of the attractions of using a skid steer loader instead of a tractor, says Mr Overton.

"Changing attachments takes about 30 seconds when there are no hydraulics involved, but you can double that to about a minute if its an attachment like the bale wrapper with hydraulic connections.

"It really is very quick and easy, and thats important when you use the loader for a number of different jobs.

"In the winter I often change attachments at least six times in a days work with the Bobcat, and thats when you really appreciate a quick cycle time."

Mr Overtons list of attachments includes a bucket and a hydraulic grab from the Bobcat range, plus a bale spike, an ABT round bale handler, a scraper and the Wilder bale wrapper which have all been fitted with Bobcats Bob-Tach quick hitch system. The only other attachment he would find useful is a pallet fork for the general lifting and carrying jobs.

Bobcat skid-steer loaders have been used at Ham Farm for 18 years. The current machine is a 46.6hp Bobcat 773 bought new last year. It is the farms fourth Bobcat and the most powerful so far, and it features an extended wheelbase giving increased stability for extra lift height plus double linkage boom arms to give a vertical lift. Mr Overton chose it to improve the handling of big bales of straw and hay.

The big bales are made by a New Holland D1010 baler, and the Bobcat 773 with a grab attachment can unload them when they are delivered four high on a truck. It can also stack them five high to make more efficient use of storage space in the barn.

But skid-steer loaders are not cheap, says Mr Overton – the current price of Bobcat 773 with one attachment is about £16,500 – but for jobs such as muck or bale handling in a restricted space, a skid-steer can make a tractor and loader look slow and awkward.

"The contractor who spreads our manure brings three West spreaders and the Bobcat has no difficulty keeping up with all three of them when loading from a manure heap," he says.

"I think we would see many more skid-steer loaders working on farms if people realised what they can do. We are brought up with the idea that you need a tractor or a telescopic handler for loading muck or stacking bales." &#42

The Wilder bale wrapper is attached to the front of the skid steer loader.

Above: Neil Overton says the skid-steer loader is ideal for bale handling and yard work. Left: The grab attachment on the Bobcat 773 stacks big bales five high.

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