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JCB: Master of the silage clamp

Published on 08 January 2019

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It took only one demonstration of the JCB FARM MASTER 435S to convince Southland contractor Eddie Rabbit to upgrade. Operating out of Western Southland, Eddie’s team of nearly 40 operators provides most of Southland with a comprehensive range of agricultural services, mostly around the establishment and harvesting of forage crops and pasture.

A core activity for much of the year is silage conservation; the company’s gangs compile silage clamps with a machine designed for exactly that job, the JCB FARM MASTER 435S wheeled loading shovel. This class of machine is a JCB original innovation, developed following intensive investigation of farmer requirements in the UK, where silage has long been integral to livestock feeding systems.

Eddie Rabbit started Rabco Ag Ltd ten years ago. Anticipating silage to be an important part of his activities, early on he purchased an eight-tonne JCB FARM MASTER 414 wheeled loading shovel. With a special forked front attachment, these articulated machines with their very high power-to-weight ratio can efficiently push silage into a heap, and then climb the heap to form it and roll it down.

Articulated steering and limited-slip differentials front and back give the operator an ability to manoeuvre safely on top of the clamp that is second to none. The 414 quickly proved to Eddie the worth of this class of machine and only a year later, Rabco replaced it with a JCB FARM MASTER 434, a much larger wheeled shovel. Perhaps testifying to the performance of the 414, Eddie subsequently bought another one and still operates it today.

Then, 18 months ago, he expanded his inventory by purchasing the even larger and more powerful JCB FARM MASTER 435S, a 13.6-tonne 230-horsepower machine with a shovel capacity of  2.4m3, which offered significantly greater fuel economy. It was a decision he made almost immediately upon seeing the new model demonstrated. An improved ZF six-speed gearbox with every gear having a lock-up torque converter makes the 435S 17% faster than the 434 on the road, with a top speed of 48kph.

“Peace of mind, that’s the main thing. And in that regard we’ve had no issues at all.”

As well as being well-muscled in horsepower and hydraulic capacity terms, these machines also feature limited-slip differentials and a large number of further innovations besides. One such example is the hydraulic reversing fan that senses the ambient temperature and works accordingly, offering significant fuel savings – and less noise, which improves operator comfort. At operator-determined intervals, the fan will switch itself into reverse to clear the radiator of the debris that inevitably accumulates when the machine is working hard.

Other instances include the automatic idle feature, which returns the engine to 700 rpm from 950 rpm after 30 seconds of inactivity, and an ‘eco mode’ that limits engine speed to 1800 rpm for reduced fuel consumption.

As is always the case with JCB equipment, operator comfort and convenience are high on the specification list with features such as a single-lever joystick fitted to the air-conditioned and leather upholstered seat, reversing camera, boom suspension that reduces the impact of the boom bouncing during road travel, a self-greasing system and a one-piece electronically-opening bonnet.

The high road speed of the FARM MASTER 435S offers a very specific benefit, says Eddie: “It’s the last machine to leave the job; the harvester and the trucks have gone, and when he does finally finish he can get to the next job much sooner than if he was in a tractor.” And the worth of investing in these machines? “Number one, because they’re set up and ready to go on silage.”

The high power-to-weight ratio is also invaluable, given the nature of the work they are required to do, but overarching these factors for Eddie Rabbit is the quality of backup service offered by CLAAS Harvest Centre. “In the grass market we’re not just eight to five, and we hope that a mechanic is going to be available whenever we need one.”

The factory warranty of five years or 5000 hours is important to Eddie as well. “Peace of mind, that’s the main thing. And in that regard we’ve had no issues at all.” To build reliability into its products, JCB is noted for using the best components industry can provide and so the FARM MASTER range features Cummins engines, ZF transmissions and Rexroth pumps. When it is not doing silage Rabco’s JCB FARM MASTER 435S is sufficiently versatile to be applied to a number of other roles, such as fodder beet lifting. “It gets used for all sorts of things like moving soil around, helping out the diggers, loading trucks and so on.”

CLAAS Harvest Centre

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