Kilkenny contractor hasn't looked back since switching to a Pottinger butterfly combination treble mower unit
Which is better - a thrifty butterfly mower linked to a 250hp tractor, or a powerful self-propelled mower tailor-made for the job?
Last week, I spoke with a Kilkenny-based contractor who, after using both systems for hundreds of acres, decided to opt for a Pottinger A10 treble mower.
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It is a debate that every contractor feels differently about, so to look at the other side of the debate in the coming weeks, I will be featuring a different contractor who thinks self-propelled mowers are the only way to go.
The butterfly effect
After using Big M self-propelled mowers for a number of seasons and being impressed with what they can offer, last year Philip Roche of Roche Agri Contracting in Castlecomer switched to a new Pottinger A10 butterfly combination treble mower unit.
The family-run contracting business hasn't looked back since, but Roche Agri Contracting's change in mowing systems came about in a rather unplanned way after the team suffered some downright bad luck.
In what is surely every contractor's worst fear, their Krone Big M 420 self-propelled mower was destroyed in a fire at the start of last silage season.
"It couldn't have happened at a worse time because we were just kicking off with lots of grass waiting to be knocked and the phone ringing off the hook," Philip explained.
Word got around quickly about the fire and, thankfully, farmers and neighbouring contractors rallied around Philip and offered support in terms of manpower and machinery.
"I had a very kind offer from a local machinery dealer of a Pottinger A10 butterfly mower to help take us out of trouble and catch up with the backlog of grass. It got us going again and we actually turned out to be very impressed with it," he said.
After initially taking the Pottinger treble mower for what they thought would be a short period, the Roches were so impressed, they decided to make the A10 a permanent addition to their machinery fleet.
The Pottinger A10 consists of three mowers powered by one powerful tractor, which gives a total cutting width of 32ft.
On the rear of the tractor is a twin mower Pottinger Novacat A10 ED collector unit. Fitted out front, and completing the impressive-looking set-up, is a Pottinger Novacat 301 Alpha-Motion mower.
Philip sees a few key advantages that the Pottinger butterfly mower has over any self-propelled unit; namely adding versatility to the tractor that is used to power the mower, less initial capital cost and improving access and egress from narrow field entrances. "We originally ran a Big M 420 self-propelled mower, which I have to say I found to be a very impressive machine in its own right," he said. "However, after trialling the Pottinger treble mower, I was surprised that I could achieve much the same output, while adding versatility to the tractor fleet.
"For example, I can hook the treble mowers up to a 250hp tractor, which can drive it, but then that same tractor can be used for other high-powered jobs like planting or ploughing work when mowing is finished.
"With the Big M, you certainly have power, but you don't have that option of unleashing that power elsewhere. Another thing I was surprised by during the trial was the work rates we were able to achieve with the Pottinger treble mower; we are able to mow around 20 acres an hour with this set-up, which impressed me. A 250hp tractor is enough to drive it on at around 15-18kph in the field, depending on crop conditions.
"At the minute, we are using our 260hp Massey Ferguson 7726 tractor to power the A10. I would advise any contractor thinking of going for a butterfly mower that you should have at least a 220hp tractor; anything less and it can get to be a bit challenging in damp, heavy crops of grass or on hilly ground." Another area where Philip noticed a difference in the two mowing systems was in access and egress to and from fields.
"I was pleasantly surprised with the road-going shape of the Pottinger butterfly mower," he said. "In terms of width, it was easier to get into and leave narrow field entrances. There are lights on the back of the Pottinger A10 which I modified and took in a little bit to make it narrower on the road, but overall, I find it easier to get into narrow passage ways than the Big M."
There are, however, a couple of areas where Philip thinks there is simply no challenging the likes of the Big M self-propelled mower. Power is the obvious one, with newer units offering a mammoth 450hp behind a 30ft swathe. But Philip - speaking from experience after having used both systems extensively - also has a few other things he misses about the Krone machine.
"To give it its fair dues, I found the Big M handles damp crops of grass better and gets through such crops faster," he explained. "I also found that when turning at field corners and headlands, the Big M left a very clean cut, whereas sometimes at corners, the Pottinger A10 can leave a sliver of grass that is uncut.
"All in all, I'm happy with the change though, and the key point is that our output has remained the same as when we ran the Big M. I'd never say never in terms of a switch back, but for now, we are happy."
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