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Using ATV's to improve a grazing system

ATVs essential to farm management

An outdoor grazing system on an organic farm in Herefordshire has adopted the use of ATVs to reduce soil compaction, increase labour efficiencies and work more harmoniously with its cows.

Sam Thornley manages two herds with 450 milkers, near St Weonards, with a team of four, including herdsmen Malcom Davies and Mark Shipton who are helped by Tom Price and Hannah Glynn-Jones. The 700 acres of grass leys at Thornley Farms is grazed by the farm’s Kiwi cross herd and managing it is a significant challenge that has been made easier since the farm started using a variety of Yamaha off road vehicles.

“We have more land than other herds of a similar size and because we are grazing outside, we have to cover the ground more regularly. ATVs are lighter on the soil and easier to manoeuvre. We have put in bike crossings, so we don’t have to constantly open and close gates, and by using the ATVs we don’t have to take tractors on our cow tracks,” he explains.

The ATVs are considerably cheaper to run than other farm vehicles and Yamaha’s efficient petrol engines with Ultramatic CVT transmission are also less intrusive when working close to the cows. “Visibility is much better on an ATV and the engines are much quieter than other vehicles. This means we can work amongst the cows, putting up fencing and feeding youngstock, without disrupting the herd. We also have far fewer reliability issues and, should anything happen, our dealer always provides us with a replacement, even when they are being serviced.”

To manage the grazing system, Mr Thornley and his team are constantly putting up temporary fencing to section off areas for grazing and maintain the leys. The ATVs can carry stakes, fencing, tools, and the team uses a Rappa mounted fence winder to speed up the process. “I can’t believe we used to do it on foot, we are saving so much time and improving the grazing system by using the ATVs with the Rappa unit. We also have Speedrite fence testers, to check each fence after we put it up, which offers peace of mind that the land and the cows are secure.”

This system also enables him to measure and record the areas of grass being consumed which helps to manage the grazing system. “Each field has a boundary that is electrified so we can allocate an amount of grass weekly using our AgriNet software system. Using the ATVs saves so much time because it only takes about 15 minutes to put up a temporary fence. We can subsequently measure how much the cows are eating, and how much we have available, which helps us to manage the system and ensure the cows are getting the best quality grass.”

The lighter ATVs have also reduced soil compaction on the farm and enabled the team to carry out daily tasks with less labour time. Feeding youngstock has been made significantly easier through the use of a Wydale 500 litre milk trailer. “We use whole milk rather than powder and, with the feeder, one person can feed 230 calves in half an hour. The feeder has an integrated pump and flow meter so we can manage the quantity of milk being fed out. Using the ATVs means we can reach the youngstock wherever they are without compacting the soil, and with the trailer we can feed more quickly which frees up time to get on with other jobs.”

The farm has extended its investment in ATVs to a trial with a Yamaha Wolverine side-by-side. This is largely to carry greater weights and transport more members of the team around the farm. “We have a Kodiak 450 and a Grizzly 350 ATV, but the Wolverine is a big step up for us. It has four seats, a roof, and can carry or tow much greater weights than the ATVs. We still prefer the ATVs for daily tasks like fencing, but it is a great tool for helping the team move around the farm.”

Yamaha’s have class-leading weight carrying capacities and the latest Grizzly 700 can carry 140 kilos and tow a further 600 kilos. However, the Wolverine features a tilting cargo bed that can carry 272 kilos and has a towing capacity of 907 kilos, whilst also transporting four adults. “It is a brilliant machine for what we need, and it was very kind of our dealer to offer us a trial. It would be a great addition to the vehicles we have and is certainly something I would like to invest in when the time is right.”

All the Yamaha machines are automatic and use the durable belt driven Ultramatic system which has been a market leader for many years. This, coupled with four-wheel drive and electronic power steering, has helped Mr Thornley and his team significantly. “The ATVs are as economical as our previous manual machines, but they are lighter and easier to manoeuvre. Having the auto box keeps the revs low which disturbs the cows less and we can spend more time focussing on the task rather than constantly changing gear.”

The Kodiak 450 also has diff lock and both it and the Grizzly came with winches as standard. “Little touches like this, and the heated grips, make using these machines easy all year round. They can go anywhere on the farm and nobody would know they had been there. We never leave wheel marks or dig into the ground which I see as a huge benefit.”

All the vehicles are road registered and have optional road kits added. This has proved essential for the farm which has an intricate network of slurry stores to enable umbilical slurry application on the milking platforms. “We have satellite slurry storage dotted around the farm which enables us to follow the cows and spread after the herd has grazed. This, along with slit aeration in the spring and autumn, have helped to alleviate surface compaction and encourage root tillering which has improved soil health. The ATV’s mean the team can get around much more easily and quickly to check pumps and hoses when we are spreading.”

In the current economic climate that has seen fuel costs, especially red diesel, rise to unprecedented levels, the ATVs also offer much needed cost savings. “We can do more than 20 miles to the gallon which is better than a pickup will offer for the type of work we do. More importantly, we are saving on labour and accessing parts of the farm with minimal disruption. These machines are essential to the team and have improved our farming system immeasurably, we would never be without them,” he concludes.