tough duo…

5 October 2001

Tall orders all in game for

tough duo…

One tonne of feed, a three-

mile round trip and some

steep terrain. Sounds like a

formidable challenge. But

this is all in a days work for

the two ATVs operated on

the Dashwood Estate in


Mervyn Bailey reports

TWO distinctly different ATVs are used to navigate the steep terrain of the Chiltern Hills, home to the Dashwood Estate. The main workhorse is a Polaris 6×6 Sportsman 500, while runabout jobs are left for the smaller 4×4 Magnum 325. Both machines were supplied as ex-demonstrators in June this year and have been working flat out ever since.

"Weve used virtually all makes currently on the market but have operated Polaris machines for the past eight years," comments James Elliot, head keeper. "The terrain these machines work on can be quite testing at times but with the extra traction from the 6×6 bike we can manage to get around."

The bikes are mainly used for feeding and managing game birds on the estate. The Magnum is used for feeding in nearby fields while the bigger Sportsman, with its extra load carrying capacity, is generally used for moving and spreading feed further away from the yard.

This workload adds up to moving about one tonne/day of feed to the various drives sited around the estate and is where the Sportsman really earns its keep.

Thanks to the rear platform, which can carry a 360kg load with another 25kg on the front rack, it can carry enough feed so a trailer does not have to be constantly attached and hauled over long distances – a huge advantage, reckons James Elliot.

Loading the front rack also helps balance the outfit and gives more positive steering when the back deck is fully laden.

"The 6×6 is a very stable bike to use and can be operated at full load and still not lighten at the nose, although you do have to be careful when going across steep hills," emphasises Mr Elliot. "You can feel the front starting to pitch slightly and thats when you know youre pushing your luck."

The feed spreaders are mounted on the rear platform or rack of each machine and can be put on or taken off in a matter of minutes. A simple electrically driven disc spreads the feed in a 3-4m (10-12ft) wide swath. The rear body on the bigger bike tips, which is useful when it gets its weekly clean to get rid of any spilled feed.

"Mechanical feeding not only makes the job easier but the birds tend to be less tame than when they are hand fed," says Mr Elliot.

The bikes are not just used for the game-keeping side of things; they are also used on the farm for applying slug pellets and the Magnum operates a 100 litre mounted sprayer and helps out with shepherding tasks.

It has shaft drive, which requires little maintenance, while the 6×6 uses transfer chains to constantly drive all four rear wheels. In slippery conditions, the front wheels engage automatically or can be put into action with a switch mounted on the handlebars.

Quad users are wary about chain drives these days but, as long as they are properly maintained, they should not give trouble, notes Mr Elliot. Those on the Polaris get adjusted once a month or so and, with experience, this job becomes a simple ten minute task, he says.

"On previous versions of the Polaris 6×6, a slave sprocket was used to transfer drive from the front to the back rear wheels which resulted in a lot of tension in the chain when the platform was heavily loaded leading to severe stretching," James Elliot adds. "The current design is a different layout that has got rid of that problem, so the drive chain does not need so much attention."

The engine-braking feature that has featured on Polaris quads for the past couple of years also comes in for praise as it eliminates the tendency of earlier models to free-wheel downhill because of their pulley type continuously variable transmission. The Magnum 325 has the added advantage of a locking front diff that extends the engine braking effect to all four wheels, not just the rears. &#42

Nonetheless, the testing terrain of the Dashwood Estate still calls for hard use of the brakes and they do come in for some criticism.

"They do tend to wear out quite quickly – but this is the case with most of the quads we have tried," says Mr Elliot.

At £5-£10/day for the big bike alone, the cost of fuel is the greatest concern at the moment, although the land on which these machines operate has to be taken into account because it really does make the engine work to its limit.

To reduce fuel costs, the Magnum will be exchanged for a diesel model in due course while 6×6 is going to be converted to run on gas, as diesel is no longer an option for this model and gas is already used by other estate vehicles. &#42

Above:Dashwood Estates head keeper James Elliot (inset): "The terrain these machines work on can be quite testing at times but with the extra traction from the 6×6 bike we can manage to get around."

Left: Nick Harris aboard the Polaris Magnum 325 fitted with one of the two feeders used to spread feed in the game cover.

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