Ask anyone who knows anything about the UK farming industry and they’ll tell you that it’s the dairy businesses that are facing the biggest challenge. Specifically, a dairy farmer’s biggest headache is managing his cost of production. “Keeping a cap on your costs, while knowing what you’ve got to spend to produce the expected product. And trying to do that with the fewest number of surprises.”
That’s the view of Rob Joules, a third-generation dairy farmer who runs two separate holdings in Kent, milking 1500 British Friesians between them. Fourteen years ago, they were farming in Wales but saw the opportunity of moving to Kent as the first step in a plan to build a modern, highly productive dairy farm.
“Our customer is, essentially, the average shopper who goes into the supermarket and picks up a bottle of milk or a pack of butter. They’re expecting consistent quality and consistent pricing. We do our best to achieve that, while keeping a margin in the business for ourselves.
“It’s taken a while to fine-tune the business and settle down, but it’s all coming together,” says Rob. “It’s challenging at times, trying to get somewhere in a difficult industry at a difficult time, but pushing the numbers up and expanding the herd has paid dividends.”
Keeping those ‘surprises’ to a minimum – or non-existent - plays a big role in managing the farm’s business policy. Rob runs many different types of machinery on the farm, but crucially everything – foraging, slurry handling, feeding – is all done in-house. Reliability and back-up, coupled with low running costs, ease of use and operator comfort, are the ‘big things’ he looks for in selecting machinery.
Rob was looking for a machine to take on the burden of the farm’s heavy handling – loading the feeder wagon, buck raking on the silage clamp, straw handling, and so on. In selecting machinery, Rob says he attaches more importance to dealer support than he does to brand loyalty.
“We run all sorts of machines on the farm, but we tend to stick with dealers that offer us better service. Let’s face it, all machines have their own issues, so it’s the back-up and reliability that ranks as our biggest factors.”
Despite being new to the Cat® brand, Rob has enthusiastically embraced the capabilities of the 924K small wheel loader. “We’ve had it for just over a year, clocking up nearly 1200 hours. It’s become our go-to handling machine, and we’re putting hours on it every day throughout the winter and summer.
“It’s here to work, and it does that very well. It does all we ask of it. I think the hours speak for themselves.”
Although a little bit bigger than the previous loader he owned – particularly the 13 tonne loading shovel – Rob says he’s surprised how easy it was to master. “And the hours we’ve put on the Cat really haven’t taken any toll on it. It’s a much more robust machine and seems to be built to withstand the rigours of the work it’s built to do.”
As well as that renowned build quality, Rob also admires the ease-of-use and operator comfort. “Long days in the cab during the summer, with buck raking and straw moving, demand comfort.”
Rob says it’s the sticker displayed on the door that sums up his perception of the Cat brand: Built With Pride. “Pride is something that seems to be lacking in other manufacturers’ offerings. Although they sport premium price tags, they rarely seem to provide the same degree of quality control. When you’re spending that much on a machine, you expect it to be there - on the key - for you.
“With the Cat, no matter what you put in front of it, it’s well within its capabilities. I’d definitely recommend it to other farmers, for a very varied range of tasks. Add in its frugality and reliability, and you’ve everything you want in a wheeled loader.”
What about future purchases? “Having seen the reliability and ruggedness that Cat builds into their products,” says Rob, “it’s clear they’re committed to creating a good product that provides their customers with what they’re looking for.
“I’d not hesitate to buy another one.”