Cleaning out cubicle sheds is perhaps one of the least rewarding tasks on any dairy farm. This essential and time-sensitive process is frequently squeezed into milking times, when buildings are empty and passageways can be easily negotiated.
It stands to reason then, that the pressure is on the scraper operator to get the sheds cleaned before cows return to their winter hide-out.
For Charlie Cheyney of Middle Farm, Arlesford, Hants, scraping has taken on a whole new focus thanks to the recent investment in a compact pivot steer Kubota loader.
“Cleaning out the cubicle sheds while our different groups of cows were being milked was a task that just needed to be quicker and more efficient,” explains Charlie Cheyney who runs the farm with his dad, Mark.
“Our previous tractor-scraper system was good, and was based on a seven-year old Kubota M6060 with a linkage-mounted, reversible scraper,” he says. “While reliable, yard scraping performance just hadn’t kept pace with our herd’s expansion. We needed a better solution.”
Since moving into milk production in 1999, Middle Farm’s business has grown progressively, allowing the farm to implement the highest standards of farming with an emphasis on the best animal welfare when it comes to producing high quality milk from forage.
From its 60-cow start-up herd, cow numbers have increased gradually across the modern, mixed farming business. The 480ha farm currently has 500-head in milk, and with forage being a key driver, the herd is supported by cereal crops, grass and maize, grown on a variety of soils from chalk to clay.
The farm has three 200-cow capacity buildings, each with two passageways, plus waiting areas and general yard space that needs to be cleaned twice daily, while milking takes place.
“As the herd has grown, we’ve found ourselves with more buildings to clean out, and the tractor-scraper combination was just struggling to keep up,” he says. “During the winter months, we like to return our cows to the comfort of their sand-bedded cubicles as quickly as possible, and not leave them stood in the yard, waiting around.”
“We’ve remained focussed on investing in equipment and infrastructure to make the business more efficient, and yard scraping was one of the last pieces of the efficiency puzzle,” he says. “And updating how we clean out our cubicles would also give staff more time to focus on cow management and animal health, rather than being tied-up on the mundane, but necessary job of scraping out.”
Mr Cheyney says he considered many options when it came to replacing the tractor and scraper with a more productive system.
“I liked the idea of using a compact loader,” he says. “Perhaps the biggest advantage is visibility – with a scraper mounted up front, on the loader’s headstock, the operator has a better view not just to the working area, but all around the machine. The seating position is quite high compared to a small tractor, and the pivot steer chassis is narrower, yet much more manoeuvrable.”
In addition, he says that pushing muck instead of pulling it, means the loader spends less time running through large volumes of slurry.
“It’s a just a smarter way of working,” he says. “And this made it easier to opt for a scraper with a telescopic frame, so we could clean out buildings in fewer passes. But with a swing-over scraper, we still have the option of pushing or pulling – the latter is essential in corners, and dead-ended passageways.”
But it was a demonstration of the 64hp Kubota R090, the larger of two compact pivot-steer wheeled loaders in the R0 range, from local dealer Rod Gaskin, that proved that this was the right combination of size and power for the farm.
“With pivot steering, the loader was so agile in and around the yard and our buildings,” he says. “And with a hydrostatic transmission, the fine control for speed adjustment was exactly what we were looking for, and we’ve no clutches to worry about.”
A five-year, 5,000-hour warranty underpins the compact loader’s engineering prowess, and a generous 3.4t lift capacity means the farm could make full use of a much wider scraper to clean its cubicle sheds.
For the task, the R090 carries a Harbrook Engineering Ultra Scraper – a fully-floating yard scraper that can be used to push and pull slurries. A telescopic frame lets the scraper’s working width move from its narrowest 2.4m setting to a fully-opened 4.4m, all from the comfort of the cab.
“We’ve probably halved the time it takes to clean out our cubicles,” he says. “It’s a brilliant solution, which has brought yard scraping into the 21st century.”
Simple to operate with its single joystick control and hydrostatic twin-range transmission, the Kubota loader is far from being a one-trick pony at Middle Farm. With a bucket and pallet forks too, it provides additional materials handling versatility alongside the farm’s Claas telehandler, sharing some of the materials handling workload.
“It’s a very operator focussed machine,” he says. “The forward-reverse function is on the loader joystick, so the operator’s left hand never needs to leave the steering wheel.”
Mr Cheyney says the Kubota R090 appears to be well-built, and is far better suited to the job of yard scraping than a tractor.
“The loader is very easy to maintain,” he says. “It’s cleaned daily, and greased twice per week. The LED lights are brilliant for the winter months, and I don’t think we could have chosen a better machine for the job.”
“We’ve also gained additional loader capacity when working around the yard and buildings too, and this is a much cheaper option to buy and run, than a second telehandler,” he adds.
He says that when the farm updates its 20/20 swing-over parlour, there’s enough spare capacity in the R090 that it would easily keep up with a larger yard space.
“We’re putting on fewer clock hours simply because it takes a lot less time to clean the yards with the loader,” he says. “I can’t see us ever going back to a tractor-scraper combination – this brings many more benefits to the business than I had ever thought possible.”
While the bulk of its milk is supplied to Sainsburys, the farm has recently opened a milk vending machine, under its Middle Farm Produce brand, so local customers can buy pasteurised milk direct from the farm.
“We thoroughly enjoy what we do, and want others to enjoy our farming journey too,” explains Charlie. “So we invested in a milk vending machine, along with milk shake syrups and eggs, which provide a way of directly including the public in what we do.”
Six months into offering the local vending service, he says the decision has been viewed as a positive step for the farm.
“Milk is pasteurised here on-site, and our glass bottles can be re-used which also helps to reduce the use of plastic,” he says. “It’s also an educational opportunity for local schools and children.”