A streamlined replacement policy and workload at Hilltown Farm located on the edge of Exmoor, Devon, means just two tractors handle the busy day-to-day on the dairy unit and regular grassland works, and the smaller tractor of the two – a new Massey Ferguson 5S.135 – has been preferred to a telehandler for the added versatility it offers.
The Nicholls family – of which two generations are still actively working on the farm – have made a worldwide name for themselves selling Ayrshire bull semen across the globe through the name Hilltown Ayrshires, with nearly 1,200 descendants to the original family line. They started rearing Ayrshires in 1955 and the herd has steadily grown to run 240 milking cows and 250 youngstock, with year-round calving. Every cow is home bred and the farm has only bought in stock once over the past 40 years. “It has to be a unique blood line for us to go and buy a cow and risk bringing in problems,” says Mr Nicholls.
Although the farm has relied on Massey Ferguson for several decades, the tractors still must stand up to the workload, with the smaller loader tractor clocking up 1,000 hours a year and the larger machine averaging about 900 hours – currently an MF 6715S. The recent arrival of the 5S.135 as the smaller tractor coincided with the previous 2017 5713 SL being due for replacement and out of warranty. Mr Nicholls says that keeping tractors in warranty avoids surprises throughout the ownership.
He says: “Our workload is structured to needing just two tractors, so having a warranty and service plan with our dealer, Rundle Agri, means we can concentrate on the farm and the cows, knowing our tractors will work when we need them. We have always found the tractors to hold their value well, so our trade ins are usually quite attractive, despite the hours.”
The recent delivery of a new Massey Ferguson 5S.135 has clocked up nearly 50 hours in its first week. Being the sole loader tractor, apart from a small Wiedemann scraper telehandler, it is relied on every day of the year to move bales, feed silage and bed up cows, along with seasonal jobs such as fertiliser loading, manure carting and spreading, and ploughing. Offering 135hp from a 4.4-litre four cylinder engine, it can also take pressure of the bigger tractor when it is required on other jobs, and the Dyna 4 transmission with automatic mode is essential for Mr Nicholls.
“Our smallest tractor is the busiest and it is in constant use. The 5S is small enough to get down feed passages and turn with a loader, but also has the power to pull a loaded bale trailer or slurry tanker up the hills. We entertained a telehandler but felt we would lose versatility to run implements on field work.”
The farm has an indoor silage clamp and self-feeding has been employed for decades when the cows are housed indoors during the winter. This reduces the amount of time and fuel needed to feed cows twice a day, and the 4m turning radius on the 5S.135 saves time when cleaning the clamp face.
Mr Nicholls says: “After the cows have eaten as much as they can reach at the clamp, we have to take small grabs of silage from the top of the clamp to prevent the cows undercutting it. The 5S can swing around 360deg in the clamp area with the loader and sheer grab on, which saves time shuffling about and the wear and tear on the tractor.”
Grass is treated as a crop at Hilltown Farm and Mr Nicholls carries out all the crop nutrition, grassland reseeds and slurry spreading, but employs a contractor to fill the clamp. The 6t rear lift capacity on the 5S is up to 14% greater than the previous model, which allows it to operate a wider selection of machinery and be in control of more implements, such as the plough. Although Mr Nicholls didn’t require it, 5S machines can also be specced with a high level of technology, from guidance to section control.
The policy has always been to make simple upgrades to the spec on each new model to improve operation and make the tractors more attractive at resale. The new 5S has a new stronger front axle and is the Efficient spec level – MF’s middle option – which offers cab and front suspension, along with two manual and two electric spools, which are on the Multipad joystick.
“The Multipad joystick is easy to use and the additional loader joystick on the armrest makes it simple to operate and switch between the two. Although the controls are new as our old tractor didn’t have the joystick, everyone has adjusted to them quickly and likes the new setup.”
In comparison to the previous 5713, the 5S has come in for praise in the early weeks for being a better match for the FL.4121 front-end loader that has been transferred from the older tractor. “The 5S has a bigger back end which allows us to feel more grounded when using the loader than before. It feels a better fit than the previous model did and the design of the cab means we have great visibility all around and down the side of the bonnet.”
5S models have the option for factory fitted loaders and electronic linkage controls as standard that are controlled on the multi-function armrest. Mr Nicholls says that the reliability has given him confidence to invest in Massey Ferguson again and the resale values and ease of use make the tractor a vital part of his operation.