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Fendt Large Square Baler: The Obvious Choice for Extensive Farming Enterprise in Norfolk

Alex Beard Pig Farmer and Contractor in Norfolk with his Fendt Large Square Baler
July 20, 2023 Machinery

Priorities including reliability, ease of use, consistent bales and back-up from a dependable dealer mean that Fendt large square balers are the obvious choice for a Norfolk family’s extensive mixed farming and contracting enterprise.


Trading as Beard Farms Ltd and based at Great Hockham, near Norwich, farmer Alex Beard and his family have built up an impressive 40,000-head pig fattening enterprise which utilises breaks in the arable cropping rotation to provide approximately 120ha of owned and rented land.


The family has farmed at Great Hockham for approximately 30 years, since Alex Beard’s father, Mike, set up the traditional mixed farming enterprise. Pigs were always a significant part of the business, and when Alex returned home in 2005 after working elsewhere, he invested in tents and brought in additional pigs on a bed and breakfast fattening arrangement. Pigs now come in as weaners at 10kg and are fattened to 110kg at which point finished pigs are destined for the supermarket trade.


Huge demand for bales

Traditional arable crops are grown. Wheat dominates the rotation which also includes barley and oilseed rape. The huge demand for straw bedding for the pigs is met by baling straw on the family’s own farm, and through muck for straw swapping arrangements with local farmers which works well. Approximately 18,000 large 4 x 3 square bales plus 14,000, 70 x 80 mini square bales are needed annually, the smaller bales used where manual handling is involved.


“We used only mini bales at first, but when we started with the field-based pigs we had fewer space restrictions, so we moved to larger square bales distributed to the pens through straw choppers,” explained Alex. “Bigger bales were an advantage as the same volume of straw was baled in half the time. Clearing the fields was much quicker too.”

Fendt large square baler 1290
Fendt large square baler 1290 N XD

Fendt hard to beat

Hesston balers were used initially, and AGCO brand balers have been used since 2017. The current fleet includes four machines; two make larger 4 x 3 bales and the other two produce 70 x 80 mini bales. “We tried a 4 x 4 baler but struggled to achieve the density we wanted when the straw was dry, for efficient storage and transport,” Alex continued. “The 4 x 3 balers pack better, and when we are carting bales up to 20 miles from fields to the farm, being able to add one extra layer means we get half as much again on each load.”


The latest Fendt 1290 N XD baler was purchased from main dealer, Thurlow Nunn Standen (TNS), and arrived just in time for the 2022 harvest. TNS also supplied and looks after the farm’s other AGCO balers. “We’re happy to look at other brands as I believe it’s important to be aware of what is available, but the service from TNS Area Sales Manager, Jolly Bullen and the rest of the TNS team is excellent and it would be hard to beat the latest Fendt product,” Alex continued. “We had a demonstration of a competitor brand which claimed to offer even greater bale density, but the straw was packed in so hard that we struggled to separate and spread it, and bales made when the straw was slightly damp were like layers of cardboard. It just wasn’t suitable for livestock. It worked side by side with our Fendt baler in the field, and the Fendt bales were much better – still very dense for efficient transport and storage, but the straw remained in much better condition.”

In particularly hot and dry weather, the cereal straw can become brittle and shiny, then the baling team works at night when moisture contents are higher. The balers have moisture meters which monitor the condition of bales as they are made, and users are alerted when the straw becomes too damp. Bales are stacked under cover and outside, and Alex described the Fendt bales as ‘building bricks’ – dense with a consistent shape and easy to handle.


Reliable design

Alex said that the Fendt balers are easy to look after and reliable, and he likes the simple chain drive arrangement. “Each baler makes up to 500 bales per day, and the Fendt design works well and we like it,” he said. “Running two balers the same helps. We are used to them so checking them over at the start of day takes very little time. We just blow them down, grease the few points needed and fill the twine boxes which hold enough for a full day’s work. The knotters are reliable and equipped with fans to keep them free of dust and debris. Very little maintenance is needed.”

Farmer Alex Beard with Jolly Bullen from Thurlow Nunn Standen
Alex Beard, Norfolk Pig Farmer & Contractor with Jolly Bullen, Area Sales Manager at Thurlow Nunn Standen

Minimise downtime

After each season, the balers are serviced and checked by the TNS team. “We are meticulous with our maintenance,” stressed Alex. “Our machinery operators have a varied role including livestock-associated tasks throughout the year, so we can’t afford to lose potential baling time due to breakdowns, so reliability is a priority. We know that landowners want their fields cleared of straw quickly too, so we keep a modern and efficient fleet of tractors, balers, handlers and trailers.”


All the balers have twin axles, large flotation wheels and tyres, and rear wheel steering. Alex explained that this makes the balers easy to pull, reduces wheel marks in the field and means they tow well on the road. The Fendt balers are operated using the tractor controls through an Isobus link, and almost every setting except bale length is easily adjusted from the seat. Straw from both rotary and straw-walker combines is baled, and the balers cope easily with the swaths, even from wide 45ft headers.


Contracting operation

A sizeable machinery fleet supports the pig enterprise and ensures the farm team can make the most of working opportunities at busy times. Modern tractors from 200–300hp pull livestock trailers, move and spread manure and transport the bales; and there is a fleet of materials handlers, plus all the implements needed to grow, look after and harvest the Beard family’s own arable crops. To get the most from the machinery investment, a contracting operation has developed through which services offered to local farms include grass and straw baling.


Full confidence in brand and dealer

The balers are usually kept for five seasons and then replaced, by which time they will have made approximately 70,000 bales. Alex commented that the AGCO balers are so reliable that he considers the standard one-year manufacturer warranty to be adequate. He doesn’t invest in optional extended warranties but has full confidence in the TNS Attleborough service team to maintain his balers in peak condition.

I like Fendt balers and even though we watch what else is available, we are unlikely to change brands or suppliers,” Alex concluded.

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