WHEN a contract shepherd in Suffolk needed an UTV that could carry two people and handle challenging terrains all year round, a petrol-powered Honda Pioneer 700 UTV proved to be the right choice.

Shepherd Cameron Farnan and apprentice shepherd, George Costello, are employed by Robert Spink, who trades as Dunhill Farm. For him, they manage a flock of 1000 New Zealand Romney breeding ewes, plus 250 replacements and up to 1600 lambs owned by John Pawsey from the organic Shimpling Park Farm, at Shimpling, near Bury St Edmunds.

Sheep graze on one-year leys of red clover drilled as companion crops alongside cereals on land which is contract farmed and on two-year leys of white clover and grass mixes on the home farm.

The sheep enterprise is run as a low input system and they live and thrive outside throughout the year. As the soils are mainly heavy, it is essential the shepherds avoid the use of heavy vehicles when the ground is wet and susceptible to damage, therefore a side-by-side load-carrying UTV with low ground pressure tyres is essential.

As their previous different brand diesel UTV couldn’t handle the loads or tracks very well, it was due for replacement. George said: “Having been impressed by the reliability and performance of Honda ATVs used for several years by Robert Spink on his own enterprise, it made sense to consider the Honda Pioneer 700 UTV for our location.

“Honda ATVs always start. They are powerful but economical and ideal for shepherding roles. However, almost all the work at Shimpling requires two people, especially during lambing, so a vehicle with two seats is needed to allow us to travel safely,” he added.

The Honda Pioneer has a powerful and smooth 675cc fuel-injected petrol engine with a maintenance-free, mechanical torque converter transmission driving through shafts to the wheels, as well as good ground clearance.

Cameron said: “As soon as we tried the Pioneer we noticed the extra performance and pulling power. It handled rutted tracks with ease, and the suspension was excellent and gave a comfortable ride. It was more compact than the diesel UTV and much more manoeuvrable and, although the price was competitive, nothing else we looked at seemed as well suited to our situation so we placed an order.”

The Honda Pioneer 700-2 with two seats has a tipping rear load bed capable of carrying up to 386kg and a towing capacity up to 680kg. It quickly proved itself to the shepherds and is used to transport people and equipment between sites, pulling an electric fencing trailer, livestock checking, towing the trailer-mounted stock handling and weighing system, and herding sheep in the field. In its first two months it clocked almost 200 hours.

Cameron added: “We bought a Honda half-cab which provides some weather protection but allows us to get in and out easily. The full-width bench seat is spacious and comfortable, and two people can travel in comfort.

“We usually carry heavy loads on a trailer rather than in the load bed, but it’s handy having space at the back to transport feed supplements and equipment. The Pioneer carries up to nine buckets of organic feed supplements which we feed to our multiple bearing ewes.”

Fuel consumption on this model averages approximately 20 litres per week for them. “Fuel use is very reasonable for the work that it does and we prefer the petrol engine,” said Cameron.

Back-up from the dealer, MKM, has also been very good, including carrying out the first service. Cameron said that if breakdowns do occur then he is confident the dealer’s service team will return the Pioneer to work quickly, or provide a loan machine.

He said: “We depend on it for almost all of our on-farm transport. Using heavier vehicles such as tractors in the field isn’t an option because they would do too much damage, especially in the winter.

“We could use conventional ATVs but then two machines would be needed to transport two people safely. The Pioneer is a more efficient option and it’s also more sociable. Like many farm workers we spend a lot of time on our own, so any time we spend travelling together is an advantage.

“We are very pleased with the Honda Pioneer 700-2. It is well-built and extremely rugged, but it’s easy to ride and extremely capable,” Cameron added.