17 September 1999


AGITATING slurry is a slow and tedious chore that most are glad to get away from. But Wilts farmer/contractor Robert Laughlin is prepared to drive 350 miles to mix slurry with his range of mobile agitation equipment.

A dairy farmer for some years, Mr Laughlin has extensive experience of slurry handling and spreading and, like many others, has tried taking the "pump it to mix it" approach, drawing material from the bottom of the slurry store, then discharging it over the top to break the surface crust.

"But this system is very slow – it used to take a whole week to mix the slurry and even then it didnt do a thorough job," says Mr Laughlin.

Employing a contractor to do the job with a tractor-mounted stirrer at Chapel Farm, Blunsdon, near Swindon, not only speeded up the operation but did a more thorough job.

Impressed with the contractors machine, Mr Laughlin bought one for himself from Devon manufacturer Mix It Stirrers. One of the key attractions was the machines workrate – he reckons it could mix in about half the time of competitor machines he tried.

"With more farmers going from lagoon to more efficient tank slurry stores, plus strict environmental regulations concerning adequate storage, I could see the potential for providing a comprehensive agitation service," he says.

To cater for different slurry storage systems, Mr Laughlins service uses three agitators – a conventional tractor-mounted lagoon mixer, a tower mixer capable of reaching over high-sided tanks and an engine-powered model purpose built to fit on to a telescopic handler.

All are transported on road trailers towed behind a four-wheel-drive Nissan Patrol, then mounted on to the customers own tractor or telehandler. And with customers as far afield as Kent, Cheshire, Pembrokeshire and Northumberland, it is proving a popular service

The tower stirrer is constructed with a rigid mast supporting the impeller shaft which is lowered into the slurry and angled by hydraulic ram. Drive is from the tractor pto and the machine is ideal for tanks with 3.60m to 4.80m (12ft to 16ft) high sides.

The telescopic handler-mounted Tele Stirrer is more versatile because it can work above-ground tanks and below-ground level lagoons.

The device was conceived by Mr Laughlin and developed by Mix It and Charles Gairdner, an independent engineer with experience of converting trailed forage harvesters to self-powered machines.

Using an engine rather than the handlers own hydraulics is the only way to get enough power, Mr Laughlin maintains, to cope with slurry of very thick consistency, to break hardened top crust, and to keep the impeller spinning a good rate. The Tele Stirrers air-cooled diesel engine packs 110hp.

Drive is transmitted through two Kevlar pulley chain belts which bring engine revolutions down from 2000rpm to 750rpm through a 3:1 reduction. A hand clutch operated on the side of the engine bell housing interrupts power between engine and impeller shaft.

Weighing a tonne, the engine is within the load capacity of most average sized telehandlers with boom at extended reach. Interchangeable brackets allow the stirrer to be fitted to most makes.

"A Tele Stirrer and telescopic handler combination is very versatile because it can be positioned and angled ideally for just about any situation," says Mr Laughlin. "It works wonders by being able to reach into towers of irregular size and awkward locations where other agitators are restricted."

On one job, the Tele Stirrer successfully mixed a 3.60m (12ft) deep top crust into the rest of the contents of a 6m (20ft) height store.

Contract charge rates start at a minimum £150 for mixing storage towers and lagoons, with the tractor-mounted pto driven agitators, while the Tele Stirrer commands prices of up to £250.

"Having a range of specialist agitators has helped my business blossom immeasurably," he concludes. &#42

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