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Shrewsbury-based Kubota dealer Battlefield Machinery Ltd has carved a niche in the compact tractor market by supplying modified Kubota tractors with bespoke guard kits. 

Headed by managing director Richard Evans, Battlefield Machinery is focusing its attention on the needs of the many dairy farms in this part of the country and it’s here where the Kubota brand is beginning to make a surprising impact. “We live in an area where dairy farming is an important part of the local agricultural economy,” reports Richard. “Many of the larger dairy farms in this area are managing herds in excess of 1000 cows. These herds are housed all year round, which means they must be fed and cleaned out every time they are milked. “Typically, on a dairy farm of this size you expect to see a telehandler, a tractor powering a feed mixer wagon and a scraper tractor, all dedicated to the dairy unit. If the farm is milking three times a day that means these machines do three shifts each day, 365 days a year. “In our experience, we have discovered that one of the most overlooked tractors on large dairy farms is the scraper tractor. It’s not uncommon for a typical 60hp scraper tractor to work eight or nine hours a day, which equates to around 4500 hours a year. “The scraper tractor works in close proximity with the cows while it’s cleaning out the cubicle sheds, collecting yards and feed passages. It’s here where the tractors are continually susceptible to accidental damage, whether this involves colliding with gates and stanchions or even damage inflicted by the cows themselves.”

A different approach 

Having talked to many of their customers and seen the wide variety of tractors used by farmers for handling scraper duties, the team at Battlefield decided to take a different approach to the dairy industry by offering a variety of compact Kubota models in a range of specifications, equipped with a bespoke guard kit to protect the tractor from impact and slurry damage. “Scraper tractors need to be reliable and highly manoeuvrable,” explains Richard. “In the past farmers would use worn-out or tired tractors at the end of their service life, but in large commercial dairy units these older machines are simply not suitable. “Having talked to our customers, we decided we needed to devise a plan so we could replace their scraper tractor every 12 months or 5000 hours. By doing this we could prevent the farmer taking a huge hit on the trade-in value because the tractor was badly damaged or had clocked extremely high hours. “Protecting the residual value has been achieved by fitting a bespoke guard kit to protect the tractor’s front grille, bonnet and fenders, so there’s no damage to repair when it’s time to trade the tractor in. Another important factor was to keep these modifications affordable. “By adding extra equipment such as front mudguards and fender extensions we can protect the sheet metal and the chassis by reducing the tractor’s exposure to corrosive slurry and manure. Typically, the guard kit adds less than £1000 to the cost of the tractor.”

Dairy customers 

One of the many dairy units that has recently invested in a cowshed Kubota is Oakley Farming Ltd, where Mike Oakley and his son Miles run a 1400-cow dairy unit. The cows, which are housed year round, are separated into groups of 200 and around 1150 animals pass through the parlour three times a day, every day of the year. As each group is milked, the cubicle sheds are cleaned out and re-bedded with sand. Once the first group of 200 has been milked, the second lot is milked and so the process continues. It’s a non-stop job that takes around four hours for each milking. The working day here starts at 4am and finishes at around 1am the next morning. Scraper tractors are frequently driven by multiple operators. Furthermore, it’s unlikely anyone working on a dairy farm is going to make sure their boots and clothing are clean before they jump in the driver’s seat. “This tractor is a machine which is rarely used for anything else, but you cannot function without it,” confesses Miles Oakley. “We generally run two scrapers: a smaller 40hp tractor to get in the older sheds with narrow passages and lower doors and a larger tractor with a wider scraper unit to handle the cubicle buildings. “The benefit of having two scraper tractors is that, in the unlikely event one of them breaks down or won’t start, you have the other one to fall back on. Having said that, we’ve learned a great deal about what constitutes a good scraper tractor. “We previously ran two John Deere tractors, which included a US-built two-wheel drive 5090M and a smaller India-built 5E-Series tractor. The 5090M was equipped with a cab, which soon proved popular with the staff on cold and wet winter mornings

“The guard kit is worth every penny as it can save a lot of money in the long term”

“A scraper tractor with a cab might seem like a good idea but the cab actually creates problems,” adds Miles. “Because the drivers are continually jumping on and off the tractor to open gates and move the cows, the doors are left open and then get broken. In 14 months the 5090M had five new doors. “The second problem is that the windows get covered in slurry, which limits visibility and increases the risk of bumping into something. Another issue is condensation. Because the operators frequently have wet overalls and boots the cab interior is almost permanently damp, which in cold weather causes the windows to steam up. “To overcome this the operators leave the engine idling the entire time so the heater is always on. During its tenure on our farm the John Deere 5090M clocked an average of 10 hours a day, while it was actually doing five or six hours work.”

Custom Kubotas 

Having discussed their previous problems, Richard Evans at Battlefield Machinery suggested the Oakley family should try a Kubota tractor. Having already sold several Kubotas to other dairy farmers in the area, he explained what he could do to not only protect the tractor but also protect their investment. “Having spoken to Richard we ordered a new 45hp Kubota L1421,” says Miles. “As agreed, Richard fitted a front grille guard, side bars and fender extensions to the tractor. One of the features we like about the L1421 is its hydrostatic gearbox, which uses a simple rocker-type foot pedal to adjust the travel speed and change directions. It’s a really solid little tractor and it’s very easy to drive.” Richard Evans concurs. “Once they’d had time to get used to the Kubota I suggested to Miles and his father that they should replace the John Deere 5090M with a larger Kubota. The tractor they purchased was a new 66hp M4062 Hydraulic Shuttle model. “Miles and his father agreed they should opt for an open-station canopy model rather than purchase another tractor with a cab. At their request, besides fitting a guard package, we also added additional LED lights.” According to Miles Oakley, when the Kubota arrived there were some muted rumblings among the staff because the tractor had no cab. However, they soon warmed to the new Kubota and to date the tractor has yet to put a foot wrong. “The Kubota tractors are well built and robust,” concedes Miles. “They are also marginally cheaper, which makes them good value. The additional cost of the guard kit is worth every penny as it can potentially save a lot of money in the long term. To my mind, the Kubota tractors we have today are perfectly equipped for scraper duty and should serve their purpose well.”

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Thanks to FMJ for article and Mike and Miles Oakley at Oakley Farming