Derek Casey visits Meath contractor Christopher Duffy to get his views on slurry spreading systems, as well bank repossessions, diesel prices and other concerrns facing contractors
You know its winter time when you visit a contractor only to find that that there's no way you can access the field that they are working in with anything less than a 4x4. Such were the ground conditions when I visited Castletown, Co Meath-based slurry and silage contractor Christopher Duffy recently.
Christopher, who is chairman of the northeast branch of Farm Contractors Ireland, was flat out catching up on what he described as a "hectic" New Year's workload as farmers battled to make space in their slatted tanks and slurry lagoons after the winter closed period.
"The phone started ringing on New Year's Eve with advance bookings for work and it literally hasn't stopped since," Christopher told me.
"Only for the early opening here on January 1 this year I don't know what fellas were going to do, because any of the tanks I've been drawing from so far have all been full to the brim."
When I called to Christopher, he was busy spreading slurry with a 2006-plated Massey Ferguson 6485 tractor and a Major 2,600gal tanker.
Christopher admitted he chose a Major tanker because he was impressed with the build, particularly the solid chassis.
"I have a guy who comes out to fix punctures on the tanker for me and he always says it is a really easy tanker to find a solid part to jack up because the chassis runs right out alongside the rear axle," he said.
"That sounds a small detail, but these are the things that make the difference when breakdowns happen.
"Major certainly wouldn't be the cheapest tanker on the market, but I suppose you get what you pay for."
Maintenance wise, Christopher is keen to prolong the life of all his machinery and so he has daily and weekly rituals that come in for attention on the slurry tanker.
He carries out a daily check on the oil dropper that drops oil into the vacuum pump vanes to ensure it is properly lubricated.
The oil should drop at a rate of about one drop per second – anything less and you risk the pump vanes seizing up and a costly pump reconditioning job.
Other important daily checks that Christopher does around the slurry tanker include checking the wheel nuts to ensure they are properly tightened, looking at the PTO guard to see that it is fastened at both ends and covers the shaft in its entirety, as well as checking the gearbox oil level to ensure the tanker can run for long days during busy times of the year like these.
"I find that if I can get into a routine of daily and weekly maintenance checks for all of my machines then that takes you a long way towards prolonging machine life," Christopher said.
"Having the same man on a given machine is the other big factor. I have two great lads working our umbilical system all the time and they know the ropes well and look after the equipment. When you start chopping and changing drivers, that's when you are in trouble."
The Major tanker is really only the tip of the iceberg for this contractor. Christopher actually spreads the main share of his customers' slurry with a Spreadwise umbilical system that he has been using for the last few years.
He has plenty of praise for this set up. He cites the flotation advantages and much higher output of an umbilical system as being the twin reasons why he thinks it is a spreading method that is set to dominate in Ireland in the future.