Skid-steer loader takes strain at FWs pig unit
Just two years ago, farmers
weeklys Easton Lodge farm
looked on skid-steer loaders
as an expensive luxury.
Today, the farms pig
operation believes it cant
manage without one, as pig
unit manager Jasper Renold
explains to Geoff Ashcroft
WHEN Easton Lodge decided to invest in a skid-steer loader to reduce some of the more labour-intensive tasks on its 360-sow pig unit, the farm found it hard to justify the £8875 price tag for a second-hand JCB Robot 165.
"It wasnt going to earn us any extra money, but it was going to make life a lot easier," says pig unit manager Jasper Renold. "And to fulfil our long-term plans to use big straw bales for the oldest and most inaccessible part of the unit instead of 16,000 conventional bales meant we had no other option but to buy a skid-steer."
Not prepared to buy new, the farm opted for a one-year-old ex-demonstration machine that had done about 600 hours. It was supplied with pallet forks and two buckets, while a £744 muck grab was eventually added to the list. And because a main priority was access into buildings not designed for machines, the compact machine size was the deciding factor.
Now, two years since taking delivery, the skid-steer loader is considered an essential part of life at Easton Lodge. But constant use on concrete – albeit a wet, slippery surface – combined with the nature of a skid-steers operation has taken its toll on tyres.
"We might get another six months use out of them before a new set is needed," says Mr Renold. "Surprisingly, its running costs have not lived up to expectations."
In two years, the Robot has cost the farm £1982.03, of which £744 was for the muck grab and the rest for servicing and minor repairs.
"It has needed a throttle cable, a gas damper to hold the door open, a section of exhaust pipe, a hydraulic hose on the attachment carriage and were waiting for the reversing bleeper to be fixed," he says. "All minor things, but the costs do stack up."
Despite these running costs, the farm is confident the machine will see at least 10 years service on the pig unit because it clocks up only about 350 hours a year.
"Despite its low use, the Robot gets a full 1000-hour service every year by dealer Watling JCB. Its greased regularly, too," he says.
Mr Renold concedes that the machine is over-serviced for the hours it clocks up, which adds to the operating costs, but Easton Lodge sees it as money well spent when reliability is taken into account. Regular servicing should also help maintain the machines second-hand value, even working in the pig units harsh environment.
"We make a point of steam-cleaning the Robot every two weeks, while every six months it is sprayed with Waxoyl anti-rust agent to protect the machine from the onslaught of pig slurry, disinfectant and other detergents used on the farm," says Mr Renold.
Everyday jobs for the skid-steer include handling Quadrant-sized straw bales, unloading bagged feed from delivery lorries and mucking out. Theres even a modified yard scraper that can be used on the Robot should the scraper tractor be temporarily out of service. And on rare occasions, the skid steer is used to move dead animals from the cubicles to the incinerator. Few jobs seem too much for the diminutive JCB 165.
"The Peugeot diesel engine seems to have plenty of power and its 500kg lift capacity, though not very much, is just about enough for what we want," says Mr Renold. "The single side door design of the JCB is a useful safety feature and the side-arm boom doesnt impair visibility too much. Its surprising what you get used to after a while." *
Main picture: Jasper Renold sees the Robot 165 skid steer loader a necessity rather than a luxury at Easton Lodges pig unit. "There are so many different tasks it can be used for which would have otherwise been very labour-intensive," he says. Inset left: Despite drain holes, the foot pedal zone is a trap for muck and other debris. Inset centre: Flattened cooling fins on the engine radiator – a result of over-zealous cleaning with the pressure hose.Inset right: Nature of the skid steer operation means tyre wear can be high, although the wet, slippery yard at Easton Lodge helps to minimise tyre wear.
Date purchased 31 July 1998. Cost £8875. Hours 1300. Running costs £1982.03 (including muck grab). Parts replaced Throttle cable, hydraulic hose; gas damper.Likes Compact size; ease of use; manoeuvrability; side-door.Dislikes Over-sensitive controls.