Photographs: Rob Haining

LONG before The Scottish Farmer team made the visit to Kilmaurs Mains, Kilmaurs, East Ayrshire, a number of enquiries had been made to us asking if it was true that we would be featuring them in our new contractor series.

So it was probably no surprise to them that we were – considering the name that the two (out of five) Smith brothers, Ian and Andy, have made for themselves during their time as contractors in Ayrshire.

A few years after Ian left school, the decision was made to put the dairy off at the farm, and start up a contracting business. Since then, the team has acquired a number of customers, and a growing and glowing reputation within the local area. 

The Smiths own and farm 400 acres and also have a dairy at Dykehead Farm, just along the road, which was purchased in the 1970s, where Andy lives with his mother and father, and milks 140 cows, supplying Muller.

As part of the contracting business, the team also have a gritting contract, which they have had for 14 years, and which keeps them busy during the winter – especially so this past few weeks.

Ian and Andy were accompanied by Ian’s wife, Mary, who keeps the company’s books, to give us an insight into life in the distinguished contracting business (all questions were answered by Ian).

What kind of set-up was Kilmaurs Mains to start with?
The Smith family came into the farm in 1890, and were dairy farmers, which our father carried on. When I left school in 1977, we purchased Dykehead, and milked cows at both farms.

At what point did you decide to become contractors?
I had been helping out another contractor within the local area and then we started doing our own silage, along with a neighbour, in the early 1980s. It just carried on from there. 

In 1984, we purchased a New Holland 819 forage harvester when there was a surge of new silage pits being put up. After that, we started doing more and more work away from home, and then we took on a few more new customers before we also purchased a New Holland 1530, and it was at that point we started combining and harvesting.

The Scottish Farmer:

IT'S GOT to green at Kilmaurs Mains 

Where do you acquire your machinery from?
We purchase our John Deere tractors from J and S Montgomery, Beith, while our Claas machines come from Gordons, at Berryhill, Moscow. Our trailers and slurry tankers come from Agricar, Dundonald, and we also have Merlos, which were purchased from Ramsay and Jackson, Mauchline.

What is your favourite tractor/machine?
When I left school, it was all Massey Ferguson we had, then it was all Ford, and then we purchased a P-reg John Deere, and we’ve used them ever since.

It’s not so much that there is a favourite, but it’s got to the stage now that John Deeres are pretty much all the boys want to drive. I can’t argue with that, as it’s them who is driving them most of the time.

Since we purchased that first John Deere, we have bought 36 in total over the years. 

My own favourite machine was a Claas 570 Terra Trac combine harvester. It might have used 700 litres of fuel a day, while others were averaging about 300 litres a day, but I just loved it.

The Scottish Farmer:

JD 6190R, JD 6170R, with rear mounted Spearhead Twiga 655T, and JD 6630, with Superior Machine Bruiser Ref:RH190118039

What is your least favourite tractor/machine?
It was blue, and it just never worked properly, everything with it went wrong.

What is your oldest and newest machine?
To be honest, nothing is really that old, and our policy has always been that if the machine isn’t doing the job right, then it doesn’t get kept for much longer after that. Our cars and 4x4s have probably always been older than the machinery.

Our newest machines will be two John Deere tractors, which we’ve got coming in March.

The Scottish Farmer:

ANOTHER WINTER season chore is checking out all the machinery, ready for another year’s work – Del having a look inside the forager Ref:RH190118038

What is the main bulk of work that you do?
Our main jobs are spreading muck and slurry, ploughing, seeding and silage. We also have a gritting contract, which we’ve had for 14 years, and which keeps us busy during the winter months, from October to March. For gritting, we have two Volvo lorries and another company, The Gritting Company, supply us with the gritting unit. We grit 28 Morrison stores, 15 BT exchanges, nine schools, and a few communications centres.

Where are your customers based?
We have two customers that are in a 20-plus mile radius, but other than that, we don’t go that far. We go from Lugton over to Moscow. It’s great because we have the same strong, loyal pull of customers which we’ve always had, and that’s what keeps us going.

The Scottish Farmer:

THIS WINTER’S been a busy one for the gritting team – here they are loading the two grit lorries for another run Ref:RH190118043

Is there a tool/machine in the workshop that you couldn’t live without?
We couldn’t live without a welder, a cutter or heating equipment, because those are things that you are constantly using.

Do you have any bargains in your shed?
I wouldn’t say we have any bargains, but when you have bought something and it has done its job well, then it has definitely been worth the money, but you wouldn’t ever say that something is cheap.

The Scottish Farmer:

THE SMITHS have three Claas 620 Lexion combines, with 5.4m headers and one Claas 950 Jaguar forager Ref:RH190118036

What changes has your industry faced over the years?
People often don’t believe what we started out with, compared to what we have now, and I would say that has been the biggest change. Your input nowadays is much higher. 

For example, if you managed to do 40 acres of silage in a day, 30 years ago, you’d had a good day, whereas nowadays you are aiming to cut 160-plus acres, and averaging about 65 bales an hour, so it just shows you how much things have changed. 

Another change has to be the weather. It is so much more unsettled now, and so you can never predict what work you are going to be able to do. 

Machinery costs have also increased quite a bit, particularly in the past few years, and they seem to increase a lot every year.

Another thing would have to be the machinery. We aren’t really IT nor Play Station-minded, and so we do struggle to work with some of the hi-tech stuff at times. It can be frustrating when things break down as well, because it’s not as easy to diagnose issues nowadays. 

There are a lot of pros to the new tractors, but there are lots of cons, too. We leave a lot of that to one of the boys, Del, who drives the chopper and cuts silage.

What would you change?
If someone could design traffic lights that turn from red to green as I approach them when I am on the gritting run, I would pay them thousands.

The Scottish Farmer:

ONE OF the latest McHale Fusion 3 integrated baler wrappers – it’s just completed one season Ref:RH190118042

How did you get on last year?
It was definitely a difficult year due to the bad weather, and overall, we only had about four dry consecutive days. We did as much work as we could, and had balers at 17 different farms on September 19 last year, which was one of the very few dry days. In the end up, we baled 25,000 bales.

What is your favourite job?
I always enjoy going for spares at the local dealers and having a coffee with them. It’s a great way of finding out what new products are coming onto the market.

The Scottish Farmer:

A PAIR of McHale F5600 round balers – there’s also two McHale Fusions Ref:RH190118041

How many staff members do you have?
We have seven full-time members of staff, plus John Currie, who comes from Southhook Farm. He helps us during silage time in the summer, and his title is Head of Carts, because he helps keep everything going.

I always say that because those men have all been with us for quite a long time, at least eight years or more, they work really well together and it makes my job so much easier.

I love that they can be trusted to just get on with things, and we are lucky because that’s not always the case for some businesses.