A high-quality forage supplier has invested in a New Holland forage harvester to replace a previous brand, in pursuit of a more consistent chop. David Williams reports.
Hertfordshire-based Fox Feeds Ltd has been trading since 1982 and specialises in the preparation and supply of forages and fibre-based feeds, supplied predominantly to the equine market. The company started supplying haylage which had been bagged and fermented, but in 2000 a drier was installed to rapidly reduce the moisture content to 10% after which the forage is supplied immediately as a feed constituent to other feed manufacturers or stored and then sold.
Ideal break crops
The forage is mainly from lucerne and grass. The lucerne is grown in three- to four-year leys within arable rotations. “It’s an ideal arrangement,” explained operations manager Freddie Barclay. “We have an agreement through which crops are grown and managed by landowners according to our instructions to ensure the quality we need, then we do the harvesting with our own staff and machinery.
“Including the forage leys within arable rotations is very good for the soil, and it introduces very competitive plants which help reduce weed burdens, and with deep roots which contribute to a healthy soil structure.”
The forage is cut using tractor-mounted triple mowers, or a MacDon M1170 swather if the crop is particularly difficult to cut, then swaths are created using a rake or belt merger. The forage harvester picks up, chops and loads the forage into trailers for transport to the drying facility.
“For us, the priority is harvesting forage in optimum condition then drying it as soon as possible to preserve the quality, so operating our own forage harvester is the best way to ensure we can do that,” explained Freddie. “There aren’t very many contractors with forage harvesters in our area, and even if there were then they wouldn’t be interested in coming in to cut small areas at a time during limited weather windows, or when we have the capacity to dry it.”
Service led to brand change
Initially self-loading forage harvesters with integrated bodies were used then, 16 years ago, there was a change to conventional self-propelled models purchased through a local main dealer. “We remained loyal to one brand and owned three similar machines in succession,” said Freddie. “The dealer looked after us well and also supplied our tractors, and we didn’t feel any pressure to change brands.
“However, we have increased the amount of business we do with the Ernest Doe & Sons Ltd Braintree depot in recent years – including hiring fleets of six New Holland tractors for the harvesting season. The team looks after us well, so when the forage harvester was due for updating this time, we were happy to consider the New Holland Forage Cruiser instead. We accepted the offer of a demonstration during harvest 2020, and it performed very well.”
Although the chop quality of the previous harvesters was generally good, long, uncut strands were a frustration when conditions were dry. “The staggered blade layout included a gap and when the crop was especially dry there were a lot of uncut stalks. The New Holland rotor has blades right across, and we noticed an immediate improvement when we trialled it.”
The farm’s own new FR550 harvester was delivered for the start of the 2022 cutting season. “It’s easy to drive. The cab is comfortable, and the visibility all around is excellent,” said Freddie. “Lucerne can be very sticky in warm weather, and although we haven’t had any blockages so far, we had a second water jet installed by the Ernest Doe team just to help maintain an efficient flow.”
Plenty of torque
Even though the harvester is only the second model in the New Holland line-up, there is plenty of torque allowing fuel efficient operation in Eco mode. This means that the engine runs slower – at the bottom end of its flat torque curve – saving fuel and reducing noise. There is no reduction in chop quality, as the chop length and rotor speed remain constant, and when dense or uneven swaths create challenging conditions, then maximum power is available immediately at the touch of a dashboard-mounted button.
Freddie said that the New Holland’s Power Cruise mode helps achieve high work rates. “I set what I think is a reasonable working speed for the conditions, then activate Power Cruise mode and the harvester immediately speeds up by another 2kph or so. The travel speed is managed to maintain a constant chopping load, and it reduces to avoid the risk of blockages when needed. “It’s used a lot when harvesting grass as the chopper is always kept full, and that is what’s needed to maintain optimum chop quality.”
Quick, simple maintenance
Comparing the New Holland’s fuel consumption to the previous machines is difficult as no two seasons are the same, explained Freddie – but he said it seems very reasonable. Daily maintenance and checks are quickly and easily carried out, and with optional auto-lube fitted there are only four, 10-hour grease nipples and 10 which require lubrication every 50 hours. The harvester is blown clean every day to prevent dust build-up.
Options specified included LED lights which Freddie describes as very worthwhile, undercover servicing lights and an air blow-down kit which provides air hose connectors for maintenance and cleaning around the machine.
Back-up as good as expected
“It was a big leap of faith changing from a brand of forage harvester and a dealer we had known for so long, to the New Holland supported by Ernest Doe,” continued Freddie. “We had experience of Ernest Doe’s excellent customer service through hiring the tractors, and when we purchased a MacDon swather last year, but it was still a big change for us.
“However, as we had hoped, the back-up has been brilliant. We received training at New Holland’s UK headquarters, and then members of the manufacturer and dealer teams were on-hand to help set the harvester up in the field for its first use. Within just a few hours of starting work I felt completely at home on the machine, and for anyone who has used a forager before, the New Holland controls make operation very simple. We have worked 345 engine hours since it arrived, without losing a single day due to technical issues or breakdowns.”
“Dealer values our business”
Freddie describes dealing with the Ernest Doe team as very easy. “We feel valued as customers and are well looked after. I particularly like the WhatsApp-based customer care system. If I have a query or a fault occurs, then I just send a message to the Ernest Doe WhatsApp group, and it’s read by both the sales and service teams. That means that everyone is aware when someone responds to my query, and everyone is also aware if there has been no response. In that case, even those who wouldn’t usually get involved will step in to try to find a solution. It’s a good system that works well.”
Area sales manager, Mark Jolley, added: “The New Holland Forage Cruiser 550 is ideal for Fox Feeds. Ernest Doe is well known for its customer service and back-up for tractor and combine owners, and we have invested to ensure we can look after forage harvester users equally well.”
Chop quality, cost and back-up
“Our main priorities for a forage harvester are performance, cost, and back-up, and the New Holland satisfies all three. We will probably keep it for four to five years before it’s updated and, as long as the cost is reasonable, then it’s likely we will opt for a similar machine again. For us, being able to harvest at the right time to achieve the right quality is far more important than high work rates, and the 544hp Forage Cruiser 550 gives us the chop quality we need, and it’s backed by the brilliant Ernest Doe team,” Freddie concluded.