ATVs are vital pieces of kit for livestock farmers. Many shepherding jobs simply could not be carried out nowadays, given that some individual shepherds can be overseeing 1000-ewes and their offspring ... and more. So we talked to one user to find out what makes a 'good' ATV ...

Craig Weir considers his Yamaha Kodiak 450 an essential piece of kit that he would never want to be without.

He has been a shepherd since 1979 and can remember the days of walking the hills at Mainside Farm, located between Kelso and Jedburgh, on the Roxburgh Estate.

“I used to spend 3½ hours walking the hills, checking on the sheep. I could do more than 10 miles a day on foot, but I wouldn’t want to be doing that now. On a quad, I can cover the same ground in less than hour which saves me and my dogs a lot of time and energy,” he pointed out.

Mr Weir is lucky that his son, Stuart, has an interest in taking on the tenancy at Mainside. “Farming, especially hill farming, is not attractive to a lot of young farmers these days. Stuart has seen the highs and lows with me, but he is committed to the lifestyle and the flock, so I hope he enjoys it as much I have,” he said.

Mr Weir has continued the farm’s long history with the Cheviot breed and has won multiple awards at the Royal Highland Show.

“We have south country Cheviots and Lairg-type Cheviots, too. They have a historic connection with the land here and we are proud to be keeping the tradition alive,” he added.

At 64, managing 2000 ewes over 3000 acres is no small task, especially on land that extends to 1830 feet above sea level in parts.

“When I think back, I wonder how I did it without a quad bike. I was fitter then and playing rugby so that helped,” he recalled.

His choice of 'steed', the Kodiak 450 is the latest model. It has power steering, automatic transmission, and adjustable suspension.

“The way ATVs have progressed over the years is remarkable. I would suggest that anyone who thinks ATVs are all the same, tests the latest models. They really are so much better than what we had 20 years ago,” he said.

He had used a variety of ATVs and has noticed the improvements in build quality and handling over the years. But, he was surprised to find that after a visit to his local dealer, Frank Gibson, in Kelso, that he returned with an automatic 450cc ATV.

However, the move has been a good one that has kept him out on the hills feeling safer than ever. “My old quad was heavy and the manual gearbox made it tricky on some of the steeper ground, especially when I had to change down quickly.

"The new one is 272 kg, almost half the weight, which gives it a much better power to weight ratio and better handling,” he said.

The introduction of power steering has also made it easier to handle and more reassuring on steep ground. “I feel more comfortable up on the hills on my own and after an hour or so my arms don’t feel like I have been fighting the bike,” he added.

The Kodiak also has a slightly wider body than previous models which, with individually adjustable suspension, helps increase stability. “It’s definitely more planted and easier to control,” he added.

Whilst ATVs are not thirsty, fuel consumption is always a consideration. More modern engines, such as the 421cc electronically fuel injected unit in the Kodiak, are more economical and more reliable in extreme temperatures.

“Power is not the most important factor for me. We have a larger engined 700cc Kodiak, too, which we use for pulling a trailer. Whilst we need the power for the trailer, I prefer the 450 on the hills because it is easier to control and more responsive,” pointed out Mr Weir.

“It also has the added advantage of being more economical."

Accustomed to dealing with weather extremes, he has invested in what he calls 'an insurance policy' for his ATV. “As soon as we get more than a couple of inches of snow any ATV starts to handle differently and in loose snow you can lose traction altogether,” he said.

In winter, he often has to traverse steep slopes to reach hay stores for the sheep and he has bought in tracks to do so.

“It’s like having extra insurance for the farm. The tracks mean I can go out on pretty much any ground, including heavy snow.

"Some would say they are an expensive extra to have sitting in the shed most of the year, but without them, I could've lost countless sheep or put my life in unnecessary danger,” he said.

The Cheviots are hefted and so will stay on the same land regardless of conditions. This means he must access this land in all weathers to tend to them.

“So long as I can reach the hay stores, I know the sheep will be OK. Having the tracks gives me peace of mind and enables me to travel up snow covered hills confidently."

The Kodiak is the first ATV with automatic, or constantly viable transmission (CVT), that he had owned. The Ultramatic transmission has high and low range modes which provide power when it is needed, without him having to make any manual adjustments.

This is coupled to Yamaha’s switchable two and four-wheel-drive, which offers further choice to set the ATV up for the terrain.

“I never thought I would have an automatic, but after a few weeks I never looked back. The power is there when you need it, and you don’t feel like you are having to fight the quad to find the right gear.

"It also makes the whole machine feel more settled, and the engine braking coming downhill is surprisingly effective,” he said.

The lighter, easy to handle Kodiak also helps on wet ground. “It is easy to get a wheel stuck and with the older ATVs the weight was too much for me to move on my own.

"This led to long walks on some occasions to get help because we have no mobile signal up here,” he added. The lighter unit also makes it possible for him to 'push it out' of problems and carry on.

“I can’t see any reason to have more than 450cc in the hills and by keeping the weight down I have a quad that is more nimble, easier to ride and can still go anywhere.

"Any more power would be wasted and I think the balance of this model gives me exactly what I need,” he concluded.