THIS week’s Contractor’s Yard features one of Morayshire’s most well-kent contractors – Davie Nicolson from Dunphail, near Forres – who has built up an impressive customer base and machinery fleet since the family business was established in the 1950s.
Initially, the business was set up as a side-line from farming by Davie’s late father, Donald, who at the time farmed at Wester Regaul – a unit rented from the local Logie Estate. 
“Dad started out with a rotovator doing work for Dunphail Estate and we’ve been contracting locally and further afield ever since,” said Davie, who moved to the 250-acre rented unit, Moss-side, in 1992 with wife, Dawn, daughter, Lisa and son, Derek, before younger sons, Adam and Donnie, arrived. 
“Wester Regaul was a farm with very poor ground and Dad struggled to make a living out of that farm, so that’s why he made his way into contracting.”
Now, more than 60 years on, the business has gone from strength to strength as, just like Davie, sons, Derek and Donnie work at home full-time, while a local lad is brought in during busy spells, with Dawn keeping on top of all paperwork. 
While the team work in a 25-mile-radius and are kept busiest during the spring and silage season, they also have plenty to keep an eye on at home as they grow 100 acres of spring barley for malting and feeding, and run a flock of 440 breeding ewes and 110 suckler cows. Calves are sold as stores through Huntly and Thainstone, while home-bred lambs and an additional 400 bought-in lambs are fattened and sold at Huntly. 
Dawn also runs a livery business from the 150-acre owned unit, Snab of Moy, near Forres, which can house up to 20 horses. On the same unit, they work an arable rotation of carrots, tatties, grass and barley.

Most questions were answered by Davie, with a little input from Derek and Donnie 

The Scottish Farmer:

Donnie (18) who has been working at home full-time since he left school at 16 years old 

What keeps you busiest throughout the year?
Our main line of work is during the spring when we are spreading muck, ploughing and sowing, then in the summer months we are at silage. We sow around 5000 acres, including spring and autumn crops and grass seed, then come the end of May/into June, we hook the sowers off and get ready for silage. We roughly put 1300 acres of silage through the forage wagon and bale approx 25,000 bales. 
We do a bit of combining and baling, too, and throughout the back-end the boys contract pull straw bogies and put straw onto carrots in the local area and over on the Black Isle. 
Other jobs which keep us busy throughout quiet times include the odd bit of snow ploughing and gritting roads to the windmills nearby. 
Donnie is also kept busy in the winter time using the 2600-litre Major slurry tanker to water pig troughs which have been frozen, and both him and Derek are very able in the workshop when it comes to maintenance and fabrication on machines. 
Sometimes it’s the less enjoyable jobs that leaves the money. 

How brand loyal are you?
Davie: We used to run as many as five Fendts, but we were paying a premium price with premium repair bills and they were often related to gear boxes and engines. Nowadays, it’s Massey Fergusons we use. We’re pretty happy with them and we get a first-class back-up from AM Phillip, at Huntly. There’s been a few mishaps with the new 400hp Massey Ferguson 8737 which came home in March, but hopefully it’ll settle down soon!
Derek: From a driver’s point of view, the Fendt was a comfy tractor to sit in but when we had five, there was always something wrong with one of them. The Massey maybe isn’t as fancy as the Fendt but it’s certainly just as good.

Dealerships used?
McLaren Tractors, at Dingwall, for McHale; AM Phillip, at Huntly, for MF; and we also use both Sellars and Ravenhill for other kit. 

How long are machines kept for?
Tractors are kept to 10,000 hours and other machinery is kept depending on reliability, how much work they’re doing and running costs. 

Favourite machine?
Davie: Anything McHale – the back-up is tremendous. When we worked other European equipment, they were more suited to lighter grass whereas the Irish brand McHale is made for damper, heavier conditions.
Donnie: The MF 7624, which is the tractor I work – it’s just like being at home when sitting in it. It’s six-years-old and was bought second-hand last year with 3000 hours. It’s now on 5800 hours. 

The Scottish Farmer:

Muck spreading is one of the winter and spring chores (Photo - Neva Murdoch) 

Least favourite machine?
Davie: The two K2 dung spreaders which we used to have. Within 13 months of having them we went through seven gearboxes and the rotors wore out. The Pottinger forage wagon was disappointing too – it’s more expensive than the Strautmann and the Strautmann’s pick-up reel is in another league. 
Derek and Donnie: The Case 230 CVX which we traded in for the new MF 8737. It wasn’t that good to drive, so we sold it after doing 7500 hours. 

Favourite job?
Davie: I like working the Fusion baler – it’s simple and efficient. We have a second one coming home soon which will be our seventh one since we’ve started using them. 
They’re usually changed every two years having done about 40,000 bales, although the one we are about to change has done 60,000 bales, so it was probably kept a bit too long. 
Donnie: Sowing – it’s the start of a new season. If everything is going right and the weather is nice, it’s an enjoyable job. You’re never working in the same place for too long either. 
Derek: Sowing and mowing – the weather is usually better. I sow with the new MF 8737 and Lemken 6m which was bought in 2014. We put autosteer in two years ago which has helped massively, allowing you to concentrate on other parts of the jobs and it certainly helps makes a long shift less tiring. 

The Scottish Farmer:

Derek sowing at Morayscairn, Alves, with his Massey Ferguson 8737 and Lemken 6m drill 

Newest and oldest piece of kit?
In the last year, we’ve updated most of the McHale machinery and have purchased a McHale Fusion 3 Plus, two new McHale mowers, a McHale rake and a Strautmann wagon. 
The Fusion is my favourite piece of kit as it uses film on film technology rather than net, so it keeps the bale a lot tighter and there’s less waste at the end of the day. 
We also bought an 18-tonne AH muck spreader as we really needed two spreaders to keep us going. 
Our oldest piece of kit is the 20-year-old KRM lime spreader, which is used for a bit of lime and for gritting the windmill roads. 

What struggles come with contracting?
The rising cost of machinery is an obvious one. The more work you do, the bigger machines you need. You go through a lot of fuel, too, especially at this time of year. We’ve just put 11,000 litres of fuel in the tank this week and that isn’t cheap. 

How did last summer and this past winter’s weather have an impact on your business?
Last year, was very difficult. We were always cutting wet silage and you couldn’t leave it to wilt for 24 hours, you just had to go for it. 
Usually, we bale a good bit of hay, but we hardly made any last year. I had four paddocks lined up for hay for the horses but in the end up, it was made into silage or haylage. We were lucky with the harvest in this area compared to others. 
This year, we were a fortnight late starting with spring work but since we’ve got going, the three drills haven’t stopped. 

What do you reckon the future is for agriculture?
Nobody knows, but I reckon they’ll sell out the fishermen and farmers to save the city. It’s like government only worries about the cities and themselves. At the end of the day, though, we all need to eat.

The Scottish Farmer:

Donnie’s Massey Ferguson 7624 and Horsch 4m drill pictured at Upper Cairnglass, near Nairn, where he was sowing spring barley 

Best bits about contracting?
You meet a lot of very interesting and able customers. Sometimes, when you go out to do a job, you see how it should be done and how it shouldn’t be done. 
Farming can be a lonely job at times, so it’s good to go out and get a catch up and chat with people. 
Silage season is my favourite time of year. There is no better smell than freshly mown grass and hearing the mower going outside, sizzling through the grass. It’s good to get the wellies off too!

The Scottish Farmer:

Lifting silage with a Strautmann forage wagon last summer (Photo - Neva Murdoch) 


Tractors: MF 8737, 8690, 7624 and a Valmet 161 with loader. 
Combine: Lexion 540 
Grass: Strautmann forage wagon, 2 McHale mowers (front and rear), McHale rake, McHale V660, McHale Fusion 3 Plus, McHale single wrapper with power package, Krone tedder
Cultivation equipment: – Lemken 6m and Lemken 4m, Horsche 4m, Kuhn five-furrow, Kuhn six-furrow, Simba 4.4m discs. 
Other kit: Crimper bruiser, KRM fert spreader, Bunning 12t muck spreader, AH 18t spreader, 2600 litre Major tanker, 18t Stewart trailer, 30ft bale trailer, 43ft articulated trailer, 4 dump trailers, Stewart livestock float.