Based near Banagher, Co Offaly, Michael Silke farms in partnership with his uncle Michael (Snr). The farm has 60 suckler cows, mainly continental breeds; 80 breeding ewes and a 120-cow dairy herd.
At the moment, all calves are kept through and finished, with the exception of Friesian bull calves, which are sold as weanlings. Michael is a reasonably new entrant to dairy as the third calving season gets underway.
Aside from umbilical slurry spreading at springtime and pit silage, all work is done in-house.
This includes the baling of 4,500 to 5,000 bales annually, reseeding, and fertiliser spreading, etc. However, the aim is to eventually transition more towards pit silage.
Over 200t of fertiliser is spread annually, a small degree of which is hirework. Up until last year, Michael was running a 2009 Rauch MDS 3.5t fertiliser spreader, bought secondhand in 2012.
In recent years, running costs were getting on the higher side and reliability was becoming an issue; no fault of the machine, and purely down to the sheer amount of work the spreader had done.
One day while spreading last spring, a large breakage occurred, which Michael said would be the last. In need of a spreader in a hurry, Rauch was first on the list, but it turned out that there was no spreader available locally.
He instead opted for an ex-demonstrator Amazone ZA-V 2600 Profis Tronic machine.
“A new spreader had been on the cards for some time anyway. With the cost of fertiliser in recent years and incoming limitations on what can be spread, accuracy is important.
“Having seen it on demonstration, ease of setup and use was a major attraction too, coupled with value for money, having briefly looked at other spreaders. On top of that, you only realise when a machine lets you down mid-job how important a local dealer with good service is. Tom Shaw Farm Machinery isn’t even 20 minutes away,” Michael explained.
A deal was done for the exact Amazone ZA-V 2600 Profis Tronic machine Michael had previously seen working.
“At 2,600l, the hopper is smaller than our previous 3,500l Rauch, but this is what I wanted. The old 3,500l hopper was a little big and dangerous for our farm – it was wider and higher than the tractor, blocking visibility in all directions.
As well as that, there was a tendency to fill it full. This left me conscious from a stability aspect whenever sending someone off spreading.”
Being a long-term investment, Michael wanted a well-spec’d machine, which he got. From a high level, its main features include: GPS, section control, weigh cells, rollover cover, side steps, castor wheels, etc.
“Without a doubt, the move to section control is one that would have saved us thousands of euros if only we had done it sooner. You really need to see the spreader in action to understand its capabilities.
"The spreader wasn’t even here for the full season last year, and I’d still estimate that we saved in the region of 4t of fertiliser, purely down to section control and an accurate border kit,” Michael said.
Amazone achieves its section control by altering the fertiliser’s drop point and shutter position on the spreading disc, while maintaining the rotation speed of the outward turning discs at a constant 540rpm.
Being the Profis Tronic model, Michael’s spreader is equipped with the higher-end AmaTron 4 Isobus terminal. In total, the spreader offers eight-section, part-width section control as standard.
Although new to section control, Michael is pleased with just how seamless the system works in the field, and its small feature, like the fact the shutters physically won’t open until the PTO is at 540rpm.
Since moving to section control, Michael has observed a noticeable difference in the evenness of his grass covers, which undoubtedly is helped by the more evenly spread pattern associated with new machine.
The spreader is equipped with the electrically adjustable Limiter V+ border spreading kit.
From the terminal, field-side, border and watercourse spreading modes can be selected with the touch of a button. These presets change the degree in which the deflector kit is lowered.
Calibration and weighing
Amazone’s unique EasyCheck calibration mats were included as part of the deal when Michael purchased the spreader.
Essentially, the mats are a digital version of the traditional trays used for tray test calibrations. There are 16 mats, which are laid out across the spreading width, which is 24m in Michael’s case.
Once the relevant number of passes have been made over the mats while spreading, each mat is photographed through the Amazone EasyCheck App. From here, the spread pattern is analysed and the operator is notified of any necessary setting changes.
“The mats were a big seller for me. I’ve used the mats three times; they’re a great job for multiple reasons.
"Firstly, they are compact for storage, and secondly, they are quick. I’ve carried out the full procedure in around five minutes. Every time, the spread pattern has been bang on the money, to be fair.”
When it comes to changing between fertiliser types, the process is easy, Michael explained:
“All the spread charts are on the mySpreader app. On the app, you input all the variables regarding target application rate, spreading width and product type, and it states what the vane setting should be, and then it adjusts the shutter automatically on the go, according to the forward speed needed to achieve the target rate.
“To be fair, 90% of the fertilisers I have used so far are on the Amazone database. Otherwise, there are very similar products.”
Where products are missing, Amazone (like most manufacturers) offers a service whereby customers can send samples of a particular blend or product to the factory for analysis and to be put on the app.
Being a Profis spreader means it is equipped with a twin-cell weighing system, which Michael says is a great addition: “When the spreader is set, I’m confident it’s applying the correct rate, but the weigh cells confirm this. I always used to start the season in a one-acre paddock.
"That way, I knew, for example, if I applied one bag an acre, then it should have took exactly one bag. With weigh cells, I know the application is right when I’m leaving the field, as the kilos spread match the quantity that was required.”
Controls and build
Michael uses the AmaTron 4 terminal for both spreader control and manual GPS guidance. The level of intuitiveness and versatility of the terminal was a big bonus when buying the spreader, as well as the fact that fields and field-specific application data can be recorded, extracted and uploaded onto Pasture Base Ireland.
Another benefit is that the GPS can be used for any other tractor task on the farm, and if Michael decides to purchase more Isobus equipment at a later stage, it will be a compatible.
The only downside Michael could see, in terms of control, was the way in which the AmaTron terminal is hardwired into the tractor.
He said it’s practically one tractor to the spreader all the time, unless there were other Isobus section-control-ready terminals in the yard.
“Design of the spreader seems good – it’s easily mounted, which is a major bonus as it’s a job I used to despise doing. The folddown castor wheels are a super job for mounting and storage purposes,” noted Michael.
“So far, I’m delighted with the spreader. I can pick out no real faults. Setup and performance has been excellent,” Michael pointed out.
“The AmaTron Isobus terminal is straightforward to use, and the fact it can be used separately for guidance or as an Isobus terminal is mighty. I underestimated just how effective section control would be from a fertiliser saving aspect.
“From June to the end of the 2023 spreading season, I saved somewhere in the region of 4t of fertiliser based on the same application rate for 2022. This, I put down to the section control, combined with it being a new spreader with a more accurate spread pattern and the border kit.
“To be fair, the old spreader was worn out – but still, the combined savings covered the year’s repayment on the spreader. So, it should effectively pay for itself,” Michael said.